Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)
WHERE TO EAT
For a long time, Vegas was considered an epicurean wasteland, a place where prime rib that cost more than $4.99 was considered haute cuisine, and all-you-can-eat buffets dominated the landscape. Then the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. It got to the point where you couldn’t swing a delicately seasoned roast leg of lamb with a honey-mint jus without hitting a celebrity chef and their fancy, very expensive restaurants. Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Julian Serrano, Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse, Charlie Palmer . . . the list goes on and on, and so did the bills that came at the end of the meals.
Now, things have sort of settled in the middle. Fine dining continues to be more than fine in Vegas, but the good news for folks with less adventurous palates, or less extravagant budgets, is that there is plenty to eat here for everyone. All-you-can-eat buffets still abound, cheap eats can still be found if you know where to look, and moderately priced restaurants are making a big comeback. We hope you’re hungry!
RESTAURANTS BY CUISINE
Bier Garten , p. 129
Carson Kitchen , p. 130
Culinary Dropout , p. 135
Dick’s Last Resort , p. 100
Eat , p. 131
Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen , p. 117
Hash House a Go Go , p. 117
Holstein’s Shakes & Buns , p. 117
Lagasse’s Stadium , p. 118
Serendipity 3 , p. 119
Stewart + Ogden , p. 128
Red 8 , p. 125
Fú , p. 135
Flock & Fowl , p. 138
Big Ern’s BBQ , p. 129
Gilley’s , p. 116
Memphis Championship Barbecue , p. 141
Bouchon , p. 108
db Brasserie , p. 109
Mon Ami Gabi , p. 118
Payard Patisserie & Bistro , p. 119
Bellagio Buffet , p. 144
The Buffet at Aria , p. 143
The Buffet at TI , p. 146
Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet , p. 145
Excalibur’s Buffet , p. 143
Flavors at Harrah’s , p. 146
Gold Coast’s Ports O’ Call , p. 149
Mandalay Bay’s Bayside Buffet , p. 144
Main Street Station Garden Court Buffet , p. 147
Mirage Cravings Buffet , p. 145
MORE, The Buffet at Luxor , p. 144
Paris Las Vegas Le Village Buffet , p. 145
Rio’s Carnival World Buffet , p. 148
Spice Market Buffet , p. 147
Wicked Spoon Buffet , p. 146
Wynn Las Vegas Buffet , p. 147
Bobby’s Burger Palace , p. 106
Gordon Ramsay BurGR , p. 121
Heart Attack Grill, p. 131
Shake Shack , p. 104
China Poblano , p. 115
Hakkasan , p. 97
Ping Pang Pong , p. 137
Crush , p. 96
Fleur by Hubert Keller , p. 96
Hugo’s Cellar , p. 126
Red Square , p. 103
Rose.Rabbit.Lie , p. 112
Todd’s Unique Dining , p. 139
Top of the World , p. 125
American Coney Island , p. 129
Pink’s , p. 121
Burger Bar , p. 107
Ellis Island Restaurant , p. 138
Brooklyn Bowl , p. 113
Yardbird , p. 120
Forum Food Court , p. 120
Fulton Street Food Court , p. 121
Alizé , p. 132
Andre’s , p. 94
Bardot Brasserie , p. 99
Joël Robuchon , p. 97
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon , p. 98
Pamplemousse , p. 133
Picasso , p. 112
Restaurant Guy Savoy , p. 111
Public House , p. 119
Hofbrauhaus , p. 136
Rí Rá Irish Pub , p. 103
B&B Ristorante , p. 107
Costa di Mare , p. 123
Buddy V’s Ristorante , p. 114
Carmine’s , p. 115
Giada , p. 115
Piero’s , p. 136
Rao’s , p. 112
Sinatra , p. 124
Raku Grill , p. 142
Yusho , p. 106
Cleo , p. 122
Border Grill , p. 99
Cabo Wabo Cantina , p. 114
Doña María Tamales , p. 130
Diablo’s Cantina , p. 100
Pinches Tacos , p. 132
Tacos & Tequila , p. 104
Aureole , p. 94
Herringbone, , p. 101
Sage , p. 98
Pizza Rock , p. 128
Naked City Pizza , p. 136
Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill , p. 116
Pub 1842 , p. 101
The Pub at Monte Carlo , p. 103
Todd English P.U.B. , p. 104
Capriotti’s , p. 137
Goodwich , p. 131
Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House , p. 96
Estiatorio Milos , p. 110
M&M Soul Food , p. 141
Mesa Grill , p. 111
Julian Serrano , p. 101
Alder & Birch , p. 134
Andiamo Steakhouse , p. 125
Bazaar Meat , p. 122
Delmonico Steakhouse , p. 109
Gordon Ramsay Steak , p. 110
Old Homestead Steakhouse , p. 111
Oscar’s Beef Booze Broads , p. 126
The Steakhouse , p. 124
Strip House , p. 113
Chada Thai , p. 138
Lotus of Siam , p. 139
Viva Las Arepas , p. 132
Main courses $30 and up
Main courses $15–$30
Main courses under $15
Andre’s FRENCH The namesake of this restaurant is often considered the first “big name” chef to arrive in Las Vegas. Andre Rochat’s original Downtown outpost—essentially a renovated cottage—closed in 2008 after 40 years. But its current fancy digs at Monte Carlo uphold his reputation. The emphasis here is still on classic French dishes like escargot de Burgogne, Dover sole grenobloise and lamb Provençal, all of which are in rotation on his current menus, all with deliciously haute presentations. Who serves lobster Thermidor anymore these days? More often than not, Andre’s does. The round jewel box dining room is warm and intimate, accented in earthy browns and light blue. Should you get overwhelmed by having to choose from the more than 1,000 wines, the capable sommelier will help. A secret cognac and cigar lounge upstairs is a perfect spot for a nightcap.
In Monte Carlo, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.andrelv.com. 702/798-7151. Main courses $26–$78. Tues–Sun 5:30–10pm.
South Strip Restaurants
Aureole NEW AMERICAN Even if you have no idea what kind of food Aureole serves, you definitely know about its wine tower. The four-story, gleaming glass and steel structure in the middle of the main dining room not only houses one of the best wine collections in the city, but also has an added bonus of stunning “Wine Angels” who gracefully rappel up and down the wine racks on wires to secure your bottle of wine from the 50,000 available. They’ve ditched their black Mission Impossible-style catsuits in favor of sparkly, red and muted-orange numbers, but don’t worry, they’re just as form fitting as the previous uniforms. After witnessing this very Vegas spectacle, you get to enjoy one of the city’s great fine dining experiences. The seasonal menu focuses on American, responsibly sourced ingredients treated with the most delicate of touches. Mainstays include a dense, double cut pork chop with collard greens and bacon bits, and roasted king salmon brightened with mint cucumber sauce and a heart of palm salad. Pick and choose according to your tastes from an a la carte menu, a seasonal, prix fixe tasting menu, a selection of small plates for noshers, and even happy hour offerings (for those on limited budgets). The best seats in the house are by the Swan Court, where you can observe the resident paired swans through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Though chef Palmer only stops in every once in awhile, his kitchen, run by chef Arnaud Masset, is as exacting as it would be if Palmer were running service himself.
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.aureolelv.com. 877/632-1766. Small plates $8–$18, main courses $32–$72. Mon–Sat 5:30–10:30pm.
Crush CONTINENTAL This long and narrow eatery from local restaurateurs Michael and Jenna Morton—who also own La Comida (p. 128) Downtown—is always busy, especially when there’s an event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Large steel doors (with text from the epic of Gilgamesh etched into them) separate the rustic front from the more private dining areas and another bar in the back, but if you want to be where the action is, sit near the front bar. On this “small plates”–heavy menu, the flatbreads are tops, with intriguing topping combinations like date and artichoke or wild mushroom with Fontina cheese. I also like the sea scallop “benedict” topped with quail eggs and chorizo. For bigger appetites, I’d recommend the hearty lobster pot pie or crab risotto. There are also options for those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, dairy-free and shellfish-free foods.
At MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.crushmgm.com. 702/891-3222. Small plates $9–$18, main courses $16–$45. Sun–Thurs 5:30–10:30pm; Fri–Sat 5:30–11:30pm.
Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House CREOLE/SEAFOOD Few names in the American culinary world are as recognizable as Emeril Lagasse, thanks to his many shows in the early days of the Food Network. Before TV stardom, his original Fish House in New Orleans was his claim to fame. This outpost at the MGM Grand isn’t as good as the original, but it’s still one of the best representations of Crescent City cuisine on the Strip. Grab a seat at the raw bar to watch as your oysters are shucked just for you, or go for the full monty in the dining room and order all the Creole classics: barbecue shrimp, shrimp etouffée, and the tastiest gumbo in town. To get the full “bam!” effect, Emeril’s signature banana cream pie is a must for dessert.
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.emerils.com. 702/891-7374. Main courses lunch $19–$36, dinner $18–$44 (more for lobster). Daily 11:30am–10pm.
Fleur by Hubert Keller CONTINENTAL What used to be chef Hubert Keller’s fine dining Fleur de Lys has been dialed down to a more relaxed establishment, though we wouldn’t call it “casual,” per se. The dining room remains elegant, while the faux patio seating features leather club chairs, perfect to lounge in for lunch bites like pulled pork sandwiches or a bacon and onion-heavy tarte flambée. Like many other restaurants, small plates are now the norm. Little bites here take you around the world, from beef tartare tacos and kushi oysters, to Japanese gyoza and Peruvian crudo, all meant to be shared before you embark on your own entree. You can get a burger from Keller’s Burger Bar, also located in Mandalay Bay, or you can order a Fleur Burger here, made of Wagyu beef with caramelized onions and mushrooms, served on toasted brioche. Just be sure you’re not ordering the Fleur Burger 5000, which is pretty much the same thing, except topped with more extravagant ingredients like truffles and foie gras, and served with a bottle of 1996 Petrus to wash it down. Oh, and that one costs $5,000.
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.hubertkeller.com. 702/632-9400. Main courses lunch $19–$22, dinner small plates $10–$25, dinner full plates $32–$95. Mon–Fri 11am–10pm; Sat–Sun 11am–10:30pm
Hakkasan CHINESE All those bright, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants you’ve been to? This is the complete opposite of them. Hakkasan’s first floor (above it is a dance club) is all about cutting-edge design: high ceilings and tall black lacquer lattices that evoke the feeling of walking in a maze. The meals are as pleasantly puzzling. While you’ll encounter familiar dishes like dim sum, Mongolian beef, and crispy chicken in lemon sauce, they’re elevated with elegant presentation and delicate flavors and ingredients (the prices are elevated in turn). The Peking duck, for example, is served with traditional accoutrement of thin crepes, scallion and cucumbers, but also with a healthy dose of reserve caviar. Less familiar Chinese dishes on the menu are aimed at the high-roller Asian clientele, but adventurous diners will find them exciting, as well.
Hakkasan first served its brand haute Chinese cuisine in London, where Chef Ho Chee Boon won a Michelin star before expanding the empire here and adding the nightclub that has become one of the MGM’s biggest draws.
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.hakkasanlv.com. 702/891-3838. Main courses $18–$255. Sun–Thurs 5–11pm; Fri–Sat 5pm–midnight.
Joël Robuchon FRENCH There are fancy French meals in Las Vegas, and then there are meals at Joël Robuchon. Nearly every culinary accolade in the world has been bestowed on Robuchon: He has 28 Michelin stars under his toque—more than any other chef in the world. He’s won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France for culinary arts, the highest honor given to French craftsmen. European guidebook Gault-Millau even created a title just for him, naming him Chef of the Century. All this is to say that the meal you have here will be worth the sticker shock.
The jewel box of a dining room features plenty of regal purple, fresh flowers, and a stunning crystal chandelier. It’s so formal that it can feel like eating at church, but once you get started on the exquisite, 18-course tasting menu, the over-the-top decor begins to feel appropriate. Each dish is a study in pristine ingredients and impeccable technique, combining flavors and textures in ways that only a chef of this caliber can imagine. Where else would you even consider eating a crab gelee or foie gras carpaccio? Having had the good fortune of witnessing the kitchen during service, I can tell you that the chefs back there are working silently, paying attention to the most painstaking details. This is how a chef earns three Michelin stars over and over again.
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.joel-robuchon.com. 702/891-7925. Reservations strongly recommended. Jacket recommended. Prix-fixe tasting menus $127–$250, 18-course tasting menu $445, a la carte main courses $85–$235. Daily 5:30–10pm.
SHHHHHH . . . HALF-PRICE MEALS, ON THE STRIP & OFF
Cut-price meals at some of the city’s top eateries are being sold by Tix4Tonight, the same people who peddle theater tickets. Either stop by a booth, call 800/269-8499, or visit www.tix4dinner.com. Request a reservation from their list of partner restaurants (which vary often but can include gourmet options such as Hugo’s Cellar to all-you-can-eat like The Buffet at TI), pay a small fee, and get discounts of up to 50% off. Reservations must be made in person at a Tix4Tonight booth.
Booths can be found at the following locations:
In the Fashion Show mall (across from the Wynn)
In the Hawaiian Marketplace (near Harmon St.)
At the Circus Circus main registration desk (North Strip)
At Slots A Fun (next to Circus Circus)
In Bill’s Casino (at the corner of Flamingo Blvd.)
In the Showcase Mall (at the base of the giant Coca-Cola bottle)
In the Four Queens Casino (Downtown, on Fremont St.)
In the Casino Royale (across from the Mirage)
At the Town Square shopping center (across from Claim Jumper)
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon FRENCH Compared to its buttoned-up sister restaurant next door, the l’atelier (French for workshop) of Chef Robuchon is downright casual. Make no mistake, it’s still very much a fine dining experience, but one where you’re not afraid to use the wrong fork or laugh really loud. The best seats are at the counter around the open kitchen, where you can watch the choreography of the chefs preparing your meal on a black box stage, and chat with fellow patrons.
The food here is as meticulously constructed at the big Robuchon, but approaches the realm of comfort food, if your idea of comfort includes the fancy Spanish ham jamon Iberico sliced right off the leg and placed onto tomato toast. The signature foie gras-stuffed quail is tiny, but rich and satisfying, especially when accompanied by Robuchon’s famed pommes purée—the silkiest, creamiest mashed potatoes you’ll ever eat, reportedly made with a pound of butter for each pound of potatoes. The multi-course seasonal discovery menu will set you back (but not nearly as much as Robuchon next door), though there are a couple of three-course prix fixe menus at around $100 pop, and one pre-theater offering of $50, so it’s possible to experience a meal here without breaking the bank.
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.joel-robuchon.com. 702/891-7358. Reservations strongly recommended. Main courses $41–$95, 9-course discovery menu $168, small plates $18–$40. Daily 5–11pm.
Sage NEW AMERICAN This restaurant, from chef Shawn McClain, often flies under the radar because while McClain has won James Beard Awards and owned a number of successful restaurants in Chicago, outside of culinary circles, he’s not a household name. As such, this is one of the most underrated restaurants in the city, but one that serious food lovers need to discover for themselves. You could do so at the bar, which not only offers innovative cocktails, but also features one of the few absinthe programs in the city. But I’d recommend heading into the dining room for a more relaxing meal of innovative dishes like Wagyu beef tartare, prepared with a crushed caper aioli and topped with a poached egg and little chocolate bits that create texture and bitterness. Sage’s signature foie gras custard Brûlée is a savory take on the creamy dessert, and it’s just as rich and creamy. The menu changes seasonally, with emphasis on organic, sustainable ingredients, often foraged for Sage itself. Dishes that stay on the menu, like a Wagyu short rib braised for 36 hours, only change up in accompaniment; you might have white asparagus one month, or horseradish-smoked potatoes another. Lighter options include pan-roasted halibut or butter poached salmon.
In Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.aria.com. 877/230-2742. Main courses $37–$59. Daily 5–11pm.
Bardot Brasserie FRENCH Chef Michael Mina’s take on a bistro is as classic as they come, down to the dark wood paneling, brass railings, and low lighting. If you’ve encountered a dish in a Paris neighborhood bistro, it’s on the menu here. Charcuterie and pâté are popular ways to begin dinner, as well as buttery escargot Bardot-style, served in puff pastry. Duck a l’orange is such an old school dish that even most French restaurants don’t serve it anymore. But here, translated onto the wings of the duck with a delicate sauce, you’ll be happy it made a comeback. Other traditional offerings, such as steak frites, mussels in white wine, and roasted bone marrow feature rustic presentations in copper pans or on plain white plates, so you can feel like you’re eating real food rather than a contrived piece of art.
Weekend brunch is increasingly one of the most popular meals here, thanks to well-executed preparations of Croque Madames and ample eggs Benedicts served on croissants rather than boring old English muffins, not to mention a reasonably priced, bottomless glass of rosé. The concise, French-heavy wine list is meant to pair with the dishes, while a really strong cocktail program encourages guests to hang out at the bar and make a night of it there.
In Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.arialasvegas.com. 877/230-2742. Brunch courses $14–$19, main courses $24–$59. Daily 5–10:30pm; brunch Sat–Sun 10am–2pm.
Border Grill MEXICAN The Food Network made chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken into household names as the Two Hot Tamales with a contemporary take on authentic Mexican fare. Outside of Chicago chef Rick Bayless, there are few other gringos who understand the soul and flavors of the cuisine as well as they do. I’m talking home-cooked, regional Mexican dishes, all executed with modern flair. Yucatan-style pork is slow roasted with crimson achiote and in banana leaves, simple grilled skirt steak needs nothing more than charred corn relish and a warm, house-made flour tortilla as a vehicle to your mouth. Yes, they have tacos too, but forget about your plain ol’ carne asada. Here you want them filled with Wagyu beef and grilled pineapple salsa, or shredded brisket with a zesty, crunchy slaw. The Forum Shops outlet features a raw bar where you can pull up a seat to watch as fresh ceviche is made to order, beach-style. Border Brunch, offered on weekends at both locations, is an all-you-can eat extravaganza that is not a buffet. Rather, items are cooked to order for optimum freshness. This is a Mexican restaurant after all, so cervezas are cold, and margaritas, in flavors like pineapple vanilla or mango cilantro, are strong. Warning: No matter which Border Grill you head to—there are locations in Mandalay Bay and the Forum Shops at Caesars—be prepared for a hike. You’ll find the Mandalay Bay outpost on the way to the Shark Reef, far away from the casino, while at the Forum Shops it’s tucked under the spiral elevator—also clear on the other side of the mall from the Caesars Palace casino.
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bordergrill.com. 702/632-7403. In Forum Shops at Caesars, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S. 702/854-6700. Main courses lunch $10–$26, dinner $16–$36, Border Brunch $35. Mon–Fri 11:30am–10pm; Sat–Sun 10am–10pm.
Diablo’s Cantina MEXICAN Outside of Border Grill, Las Vegas doesn’t have that many great authentic Mexican restaurants, but the ones we do have are fun. Located Strip-side of Monte Carlo, Diablo’s open first floor and second floor balcony offer great people watching and solid taqueria fare: burritos, quesadillas and tacos, as well as a few north-of-the-border specialties like burgers and chicken wings. If you’re inclined to go full Diablo, there’s a chicken wing challenge: eat 20 of the buggers coated in habanero and ghost chili peppers, and you are placed on the Wall of Fame. On the less stomach-searing side are the chili verde enchiladas, with hunks of pork in a sauce of roasted green tomatillos. At night, the music gets louder and the margarita-fueled masses get rowdier, and the upstairs features live bands or a DJ.
In Monte Carlo, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.diabloslasvegas.com. 702/730-6615. Main courses $14–$21. Mon–Wed 11am–11pm; Thurs 11am–1am; Fri–Sat 11am–2am; Sun 11am–10pm; bar open later.
Dick’s Last Resort AMERICAN A frat bro’s paradise, Dick’s is beer and beef-fueled, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, which is refreshing for those who don’t want to think too hard about dinner. You’ll be hard pressed to find any other restaurant serving entrees like barbecue half-racks of ribs and honey-glazed chicken from a bucket, among other artery-clogging (but totally worth it) specialties like chicken-fried steak and battered fish and chips. Servers are deliberately rude to customers (it’s part of the schtick here), they can get a little vulgar at times, but tend to be good at reading how far they can push people’s buttons. Plus, they can take it as well as they can dish it out, so feel free to sass back.
In Excalibur, 3850 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.dickslastresort.com. 702/597-7791. Main courses $15–$23. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
Herringbone NEW AMERICAN Top Chef alum Brian Malarkey opened Herringbone as his second restaurant on the Strip (the first was Searsucker at Caesars Palace, but we like this one better). The restaurant, which has original outposts in La Jolla and San Diego, specializes in what he calls Southern California coastal cuisine, but really means a lot of small shareable plates. In the Vegas kitchen is local favorite chef Geno Bernardo, who adds in a bit of his Italian influence, like in his killer rendition of grilled octopus, or whole-grilled branzino with shaved fennel salad. Cocktails are fun and innovative, so they might take a few minutes to be made, but worth the wait. You could even conceivably get away with just ordering a dozen oysters and a few of glasses of wine and still get the full Herringbone experience. There is indoor lounge seating with large windows, but the best seats are on the outdoor patio overlooking the Aria’s pool. Umbrellas and pergolas over the tables offer much-needed shade from the sun during the day, especially during the popular weekend brunch.
In Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.herringboneeats.com. 702/590-9898. Brunch courses $18–$33, main courses $34–$62. Sun–Thurs 11:30am–10pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–11pm; brunch Sat–Sun 10am–4pm.
Julian Serrano SPANISH After years of being known as one of the first fine dining titans in Las Vegas (thanks to his restaurant Picasso at Bellagio), Serrano went back to his Spanish roots when he opened this restaurant at Aria. Definitely more relaxed and casual than its haute cuisine French sister, it offers Spanish fare as it was meant to be eaten: as tapas, shared with others and over lots of sangria. While it’s definitely a Vegas version of what you’d find in Barcelona, it’s as authentic as possible, with dishes like a classic tortilla with eggs and potatoes (not the wrap), crusty tomato bread topped with thin slices of Serrano jamon (no relation to the chef), and fried chicken croquetas, crunchy on the outside, creamy with béchamel inside. There is also a selection of traditional paella, the Spanish rice dish cooked with meats and seafood until a soccarat (crunchy, charred brown crust) forms at the bottom of the pan. While the tapas are all reasonably priced on their own, you might be ordering quite a few of them to get a full meal, which can get pricey.
In Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.arialasvegas.com. 877/230-2742. Reservations recommended. Main courses lunch $12–$50, main courses dinner $24–$50, tapas $7–$39. Sun–Thurs 11:30am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–11:30pm.
YOU GOTTA HAVE A THEME
It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that a town devoted to gimmicks has just about every gimmick restaurant there is. No matter your interest, there is probably a theme restaurant here for you, from sports to pop culture and back again. Fans should have a good time checking out the stuff on the walls, but for the most part the memorabilia is usually more interesting than the food. Here are some of the best of the bunch.
The House of Blues , in Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.hob.com, 702/632-7600, Sun–Thurs 7am–11pm, Fri–Sat 7am–midnight), has a Mississippi Delta blues theme complete with frequent concerts and a gospel brunch. The food is down-home Southern and there is lots of it for pretty decent prices.
Southern staples are also on tap at the Harley-Davidson Café , 3725 Las Vegas Blvd. S., at Harmon Avenue (www.harley-davidsoncafe.com, 702/740-4555, Sun–Thurs 8:30am–11pm, Fri–Sat 9am–midnight), alongside shrines to the easy-rider lifestyle evoked by the motorcycle brand.
The Hard Rock Cafe , 3771 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.hardrock.com, 702/733-7625, daily 8:30am–11pm), has decent burgers and all of the requisite music memorabilia you have come to expect packed in a massive, 42,000-square-foot, three-level behemoth with a gigantic gift shop, a 1,000-seat concert venue, and more. Note: There is a second Hard Rock Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4475 Paradise Rd., at Harmon Avenue ( 702/733-8400).
Parrot Heads, as fans of Jimmy Buffet refer to themselves, like to party it up at Margaritaville , at the Flamingo, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.margaritavillelasvegas.com, 702/733-3302, Sun–Thurs 11am–1am, Fri–Sat 11am–2am), the singer’s tropical-themed cafe/bar/club. The menu runs a range from Mexican to something sort-of-Caribbean-themed to basic American, and it’s not all that bad, considering. Partaking in lots of fruity tropical drinks doesn’t hurt, either.
If the rodeo is more your style, the Pro Bull Riding organization has its own place at the PBR Rock Bar & Grill at Planet Hollywood, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.pbrrockbar.com, 702/750-1685, daily 8am–late). It serves up down-home American food in a country-western environment complete with a mechanical bull and tire swings above the tables.
You would think the celebrity shrine and memorabilia factory that is the Planet Hollywood restaurant would be in the Planet Hollywood Resort. But you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s at Caesars Palace in the Forum Shops, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.planethollywood.com, 702/791-7827, Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm, Fri–Sat 11am–midnight).
Pub 1842 PUB FARE Chef Michael Mina has three other spots in town, and this is his most casual, not to mention the most affordable. The 1842 in the name refers to the year that the pilsner was invented, and so Mina built this restaurant as a gastropub, where the brews are as important as the food. Which is fantastic, because a menu that includes foodie-friendly bar food like lobster corn dogs with crème fraîche mustard, and burgers topped with peanut butter, bacon jam, and potato chips (it works—really!). Each dish looks as beautiful as it tastes. In addition to more than 30 craft and imported beers on tap, there’s a section of the bar menu dedicated to different variations of the Moscow Mule. Mina’s wine programs in all his other restaurants are exceptional—that rings true for here as well, including wines by the glass.
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.pub1842.com. 702/891-3922. Main courses $18–$47. Sun, Mon, Thurs 11:30am–10pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–11pm.
The Pub at Monte Carlo PUB FARE The term “gastropub” gets bandied a lot in Vegas. It refers to beer-centric bars that serve elevated food. But let’s be real: Sometimes all you want is a really good selection of suds and some food to keep you from getting too tipsy. Which is what you get at this two-story pub: It has 200 beers on tap, from the usual suspects to more interesting craft and local selections, including the pub’s own brews. Beers are categorized by flavor profiles, which comes in handy when you know what you like, but aren’t sure how to branch out. The menu itself features bar-fare greatest hits like sandwiches, pizzas, and burgers. Don’t be fooled by the “Gus’ Small Bites” moniker—Gus being the whale mascot of The Pub—the appetizers (like loaded potato skins and wedges served with Amberbock chili and cheese) are big enough to be meals themselves. Perk: Sports junkies won’t miss any action thanks to the bar’s many TVs, and live bands set the soundtrack on weekend nights in the large warehouse setting.
In Monte Carlo, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.montecarlo.com. 702/730-7420. Main courses $12–$28. Sun–Thurs 7am–11pm; Fri–Sat 7am–1am.
Red Square CONTINENTAL/RUSSIAN The headless statue of Stalin outside the restaurant notwithstanding, Red Square doesn’t actually serve Russian cuisine. Its menu is made up of American cuisine with Russian ideas, and hey, that’s pretty fun. Like a starter of “Siberian Nachos” that pairs smoked salmon, wasabi cream, and fish roe on top of fried wonton chips, or short rib dumplings, a nod to pelmeni, served with horseradish sour cream. The caviar service is of fine domestic varieties (that happily won’t break the bank), with proper accompaniments of egg whites, shallots, and crème fraîche, to be piled extravagantly on blini or toast points. There are also dishes of Russian extraction, like the beef Stroganoff and the chicken Kiev, and they’re tasty but not all that authentic. The Kiev, for example, is a roulade of the chicken that’s crusted on the outside, but lacks the best part of a true Kiev, which is cutting into it to let the melted butter spill out. This all may seem beside the point if you decide to go full fantasy here, donning a (loaner) fur coat and Cossack’s hat to dine in the vodka locker, an icy chamber near the front of the bar where one can drink vodka, and shiver at the same time—like they do in the old country.
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.redsquarelasvegas.com. 702/632-7407. Main courses $27–$65. Sun–Thurs 4–11pm; Fri–Sat 4pm–midnight.
Rí Rá Irish Pub IRISH How authentic is this Irish pub? It was imported piece by piece from West Cork in Ireland, along with a number of the servers and bartenders (you can’t fake a brogue that thick), who’ve lucked out on a great work exchange program. The Guinness flows freely—not to mention properly, and at the right temperature—to accompany traditional Irish pub fare like bangers and mash, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. The menu also encompasses contemporary Irish-fusion cuisine, like the potato cake starter that’s topped with sour cream and balsamic oil, and a fantastic meatloaf made with pork, veal, and beef, and served with Guinness ketchup, cheddar, and onion rings. Take a tour of the space, it looks narrow from the front but goes much deeper than you expect, to include three more bars—one Victorian-themed bar and watched over by a 500-pound statue of St. Patrick, a Whiskey room, and a live music venue which hosts bands direct from, where else, Ireland.
At Mandalay Place, 3930 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.rira.com. 702/632-7771. Main courses lunch $11–$22, dinner $11–$28. Mon–Thurs 8am–3am; Fri 8am–4am; Sat 9am–4am; Sun 9am–3am.
Shake Shack BURGERS As the first West Coast outpost of the New York burger institution, Shake Shack opened up with great fanfare outside, appropriately enough, New York-New York Hotel and Casino. At heart, it’s a simple burger joint, but the lines snaking out the door suggest that it’s more than that. All the Angus beef burgers are cooked to medium, and if you get the most-plain iteration, it would simply be tucked into the soft brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and their secret Shack Sauce. And in a town when you can get a burger topped with foie gras and truffles and a side of Chateau Petrus, sometimes all you want is a plain, but really good, burger. For those already indoctrinated into the Shake Shack menu, there are a couple of only-in-Vegas bites that might interest you, like the ShackMeister burger, topped with ShackMeister ale-marinated onion rings, cheese, and Shack Sauce, along with the Shack-a-palooza, a sundae monstrosity with three scoops of each frozen custard flavor, made to be split between four to six people, or just two if you’re feeling especially gluttonous.
In New York–New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.shakeshack.com. 725/222-6730. Main courses $5–$10. Sun–Thurs 11am–midnight; Fri–Sat 11am–2am.
Tacos & Tequila MEXICAN Though its open-air dining room in the middle of the hotel makes Tacos & Tequila feel oddly exposed, the only real downside to dining here is that you’ll have to talk a bit louder. That will cease to be a problem once you dive into one of their margaritas, all made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and agave nectar, before other luscious ingredients—like prickly pear, pomegranate, mango, or pineapple—are added to the mix. Like your tequila straight? T&T has an extensive tequila list along with flights of unique añejos, reposados and even mezcals. On the “tacos” side of the enterprise (the menu also has fajitas, quesadillas and burritos, by the way), the food is enlivened by a dozen traditional and off-the-beaten-path fillings: grilled steak, bacon, poblano chilies of the Alambre, carnitas and light, summery vegetables. Dedication to high quality and organic products ensure the food tastes fresher than what you’d get from your neighborhood taco joint, and the higher-than-average check prices reflect that.
In Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.tacosandtequilalv.com. 702/262-5225. Main courses $11–$22. Daily 11am–11pm.
Food courts are a dime a dozen in Vegas, but the one in New York–New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 702/740-6969), deserves a mention for two reasons. First, it’s the nicest setting for this sort of thing on the Strip, sitting in the Greenwich Village section of New York–New York, which means scaled replica tenement buildings, steam rising from the manhole covers, and more than a little (faux, naturally) greenery, a nice change from unrelentingly shrill and plastic mall decor. Second, the selections are better-than-average food court, with a deli and pizza (as befitting an ode to NYC), and excellent if expensive (for this situation) double-decker burgers, plus Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Hours vary by outlet.
The Monte Carlo, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S., between Flamingo Road and Tropicana Avenue ( 702/730-7777), has traditional offerings like McDonald’s and Subway, which can be comforting if you need it. The food court is open daily from 6am to 3am.
The food court at Flamingo Las Vegas, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 702/733-3111), has a couple of interesting outlets like Pan Asian Express and Johnny Rockets hamburgers, among others. Hours vary, but it’s usually open from 8am until 2am.
If you head farther down the Strip, to The Grande Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 702/414-4500), you can find another decent food court, with a Panda Express, a good pizza place (despite the confusing name of LA Italian Kitchen), and more. Plus, it’s right by the canals of this faux Venice, one of our favorite places in Vegas. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 10am until 11pm, and Friday and Saturday from 10am until midnight.
And of course, it should come as no surprise that the biggest mall in Vegas has the biggest food court as well. The Fashion Show Mall, 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 702/369-8382), has more than a dozen outlets from KFC Express, Nathan’s Famous, Subway, Wendy’s, and more. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 10am until 9pm, and Sunday from 11am until 7pm.
Todd English P.U.B. PUB FARE Out of the two restaurants of chef Todd English’s on the Strip (the other being his Mediterranean-inspired Olives at Bellagio up the Strip), we like this one better because, for some time now, it’s felt like English has forgotten about Olives, and therefore we have too. Absent chef notwithstanding, the pub is still a fine place to eat, drink, watch sports and, overall, be merry. The menu is a mix between classic English pub fare (bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips) and American bar food (brown butter lobster rolls, grilled bologna sandwiches, fried chicken and waffles), that are complemented by a fantastic beverage program. The beer list alone is worth the trip, with selections from all of the great beer-producing regions in the world, and more obscure ciders and sours. When’s the last time you saw bona fide mead on a beer list? Speaking of beers, there is one challenge that you can face here, but it’s a good one. The Pub’s 7-Second Challenge dares you to pound a beer in seven seconds or less, and it’s free. (Not that we would endorse binge drinking, but here’s a pro-tip: Don’t pick a really fizzy beer).
In The Shops at Crystals, 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.toddenglishpub.com. 702/489-8080. Reservations recommended. Main courses $13–$24. Mon–Fri 11am–late; Sat–Sun 9:30am–late.
Yusho JAPANESE It’s nice to see that the ramen craze has finally made it to the Strip, especially front and center on the Strip where Yusho is. But there’s more on the menu than just noodle soup at this bright shop with anime-inspired decor, including smaller snacks you’d find at any good night market in Asia. Grilled meats on skewers are among the typical street food dishes, like the boneless, Thai chile-spiced chicken wings, or the Chinese-style chunks of lamb dusted with cumin. If you want to go with the signature dishes: The Logan Poser Ramen is named for the neighborhood of the original Yusho in Chicago and features chewy noodles in a creamy tonkatsu broth with a poached egg, Thai chilies, and a skewer of crispy pork. But that demonstration of excess is nothing compared to the Monster Ramen, a near bathtub of soup with grilled shrimp and pork on skewers, maitake mushrooms, butter(!), and three eggs. Be sure to ask your server if there’s anything off-menu that you need to try, but be warned that the chef is a mad genius who likes to offer very, um, unusual specials. The last time I went I was duped—er, pleasantly surprised—into eating “Quacky Mountain Oysters.” They were tasty, but I was glad they didn’t tell me until the end that I was chomping down on deep-fried duck testicles.
In Monte Carlo, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.yusholv.com. 702/730-6888. Small plates $8–$45. Wed–Thurs, Sun 5–11pm; Fri–Sat 5pm–1am.
Great Meal Deals
We’ve already alluded to the rock-bottom budget meals and graveyard specials available at casino hotel restaurants, quality not assured and Pepto-Bismol not provided. As prices and deals can change without notice, we don’t want to list examples, but finding a full prime-rib dinner for around $10 is not rare (pun definitely intended).
Your best bet is to keep your eyes open as you travel through town, as hotels tend to advertise their specials on their marquees. Or you can go to www.vegas.com and click on “Dining” and then “Dining Bargains,” though the tips and prices may be somewhat out-of-date. Following are three examples of current options for late-night munchies: Coronado Café at the South Point offers a $3.95 steak-and-eggs meal, while $2.95 gets you a hearty breakfast at The Sundance Grill at the Silverton. At the Hard Rock Hotel, Mr. Lucky’s 24/7 is a particularly good diner, with particularly good people watching. Ask your server about the $7.77 steak, three grilled shrimp, and sides, it’s not on the menu, so you have to know about it.
Bobby’s Burger Palace BURGERS Though he’s best known for Southwest flavors (like those at his Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace), Food Network old guard Bobby Flay decided to go the more pan-American route for his second restaurant in town. Though the menu at the walk-up counter is almost exclusively stuff that goes between two buns, he’s maintained his reputation for big, bold flavors in just about every version. Flay takes a regional approach to the burger, which you can build on standard beef, turkey, or chicken breast; offering varieties like the Philadelphia, which is a play on its native cheese steak, with grilled onions, provolone cheese, and hot peppers; and the Miami, served Cubano-style, pressed with ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. He’s also a fan of putting potato chips in his sandwiches, like the Crunchburger with double American cheese and house-made chips. Shakes are fun, with out-of-the-ordinary flavors like pistachio and blueberry pomegranate, but you can’t beat the classic dark chocolate.
At The Shops at Crystals, 3750 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bobbysburgerpalace.com. 702/598-0191. Main courses $10–$12. Daily 11am–midnight.
Burger Bar DINER At the original fancy burger restaurant on the Strip, chef Hubert Keller encourages diners to get creative. Everyone starts with patty options that range from Angus beef to lamb to buffalo, then diners pile on toppings that range from the usual bacon and cheddar cheese to the extravagant, like foie gras, truffle mayo, or jalapeno bacon. Be careful though, enough of those high-ticket items, plus the cost of a side of fries, and you might be wondering why you didn’t just go out for a steak instead. If you feel like leaving it up to the experts, there are “pre-determined” burgers as well, like the Keller special made with buffalo, caramelized onions, baby spinach, and blue cheese, or the Hangover Burger; which will remind you of a certain fast food burger that also has special sauce, lettuce, and cheese on a sesame seed bun—but this one is way better.
In Mandalay Place, 3930 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.burger-bar.com. 702/632-9364. Main courses $10–$60 (burgers start at $10, depending on kind of meat, toppings start at 45¢ and go way up). Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–1am.
B&B Ristorante ITALIAN Mario Batali, one of the other original Food Network alums on the Strip, has an exorbitantly priced steak house as well as a wine bar in town, but this is our favorite of the bunch. It isn’t your red-sauce-Italian kind of place. Here you’ll eat the kind of food you’d eat at someone’s house in Rome. At B&B, less is more, with many dishes having five ingredients or less. Batali’s home-style, rustic menu is heavy on hand-made pastas, like the long strands of chitarra with cherry tomatoes, cured fish roe and breadcrumbs, and bucatini all’Amatriciana tossed with guanciale, hot peppers, and pecorino. There’s a bit of offal as well, as in the tripe served Roman-style, and lamb’s tongue with chanterelle mushrooms. The restaurant is also the base for his Las Vegas charcuterie program, where antipasto standards like prosciutto, coppa, and soppresatta are cured in-house.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bandbristorante.com. 702/266-9977. Main courses $29–$135. Daily 5–11pm.
Bouchon BISTRO When Thomas Keller, one of the greatest chefs in the American pantheon, decided to open a restaurant in Las Vegas, rather than try to replicate his famed French Laundry in Napa Valley in a field already crowded with 4-hour fine dining experiences, he brought his relaxed bistro instead. “Relaxed” is a term we use loosely, as there are still white tablecloths and impeccable service to go along with the stellar food. The classic French brasserie setting, with brass rails and dark woods, is lightened up by natural sunlight that streams in through the big windows that open to a private courtyard. Set in the exclusive Venezia tower, it’s one of the few places where you can eat on the Strip and not feel like you’re eating on the Strip. The fare is straightforward, traditional French bistro dishes, like roasted chicken with seasonal vegetables, steak frites with herbed hotel butter, and trout almandine. But you don’t have to necessarily go big to enjoy a meal here. Grab a seat at the raw bar along the side to slurp down some of the most pristine oysters you’ll find anywhere in the city, or dive into a selection of hors d’oeuvres like the lovely salmon rillettes served from a jar, or a classic quiche du jour. Though the food is seemingly simple, you’re paying for the painstaking attention to detail that goes into making the most humble of dishes taste divine.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bouchonbistro.com. 702/414-6200. Reservations strongly recommended. Main courses dinner $19–$59, brunch $12–$34. Mon–Thurs 7am–1pm, 5–10pm; Fri–Sun 8am–2pm (brunch), 5–10pm; Oyster bar daily 3–10pm.
db Brasserie BISTRO When chef Daniel Boulud decided to return to Las Vegas with his own bistro, he had the chutzpa to place it in the Venetian, despite the fact that Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (see above) is in another wing of the same building. Which leads to the question: Can Venetian support two brasseries? The answer is apparently yes. More easily accessible in the resort’s Restaurant Row (in good company with Delmonico Steakhouse and Yardbird) Boulud’s restaurant feels more relaxed, with a more contemporary take on French classics. But they each have their strengths. While Bouchon is ideal for an evening spent at the raw bar, sucking down oysters and quaffing champagne, I’d head to db Brasserie to tear into Boulud’s smoked salmon deviled eggs topped with steelhead roe, then the signature Frenchie burger, topped with cheese and pork belly. Oh yeah, and I’d wash that burger down with a well-mixed cocktail.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.dbbrasserie.com. 702/414-6200. Main courses dinner $18–$75. Open nightly 5–11pm; brunch Sat–Sun 11:30am–3pm; happy hour daily 3–6pm, 10pm–close.
Delmonico Steakhouse CREOLE/STEAK Though Emeril Lagasse is best known for his Creole fare at the original Delmonico in New Orleans, he’s fine-tuned the menu here to focus on meat. (If you want to sample his NOLA fare exclusively, you’re better off heading to the Fish House at MGM Grand.) The front lounge is a popular place to grab a pre-dinner or pre-show drink, though you can order most of the dining room menu here, like the potato chips dressed with parmesan cheese and truffle sauce, or his famed gumbo. But guests at Delmonico’s are far more likely to go for meat, and rightly so; we’re big fans of the dry-aged, bone-in rib eye for its deep flavor, the fine chateaubriand for two, and the double cut Kurobuta pork chop. Sides are ample, like the enormous twice-baked potato, or the Southern-inspired grits with cheddar and bacon. An extensive whiskey library is worth a gander; they actually have one of those sliding ladders found in real libraries to pull down some of the more interesting vintages from the top bar shelf.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.emerils.com. 702/414-3737. Main courses lunch $15–$51, dinner $36–$95. Daily 11:30am–2pm; Sun–Thurs 5–10pm; Fri–Sat 5–10:30pm.
Estiatorio Milos GREEK/SEAFOOD Those who have been to an actual fish market in Greece or Tokyo might be familiar with this sight as your server gives you a tour past the kitchen: varying species and sizes of fish and shellfish all waiting on ice to be plucked and cooked. Much like those markets, the fish here have only been out of the water about 24 hours, having been caught in the regional waters of the Mediterranean specifically for Milos before catching the first flight to Vegas. If words like lavraki, fagri, and barbouni are literally all Greek to you, your server will explain each fish—from where they came from, down to their flavor profiles. Pick the one that sounds good, and they’re grilled with nothing more than olive oil and a bit of lemon juice. If you have a non-seafood lover with you, there are options like grilled lamb chops and a filet mignon, both served with fried Greek potatoes. You’ll both be able to enjoy a starter of the Milos special: a pile of light, deep fried zucchini and eggplant so beautifully stacked you might not want to disturb its construction.
Dinner is insanely expensive here (flying fish in from the Mediterranean every day ain’t cheap!) but the lunch special is one of the best deals on the Strip, hands down. For $25.17 (the price goes up one penny each year), you can taste your way through three courses of Milos’ most popular dishes, with choices that include Greek mezze of various yogurt-based dips, whole-grilled Mediterranean sea bass, a side dish, and dessert.
In The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.milos.ca. 702/698-7930. Lunch 3-course prix fixe $25, dinner main courses $28–$68. Sun–Thurs noon–11pm; Fri–Sat noon–midnight.
Gordon Ramsay Steak STEAK/SEAFOOD Though his TV persona on shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares make chef Gordon Ramsay seem like a terror, in reality he’s just a passionate chef who earned many accolades before he ever became famous. Out of his three restaurants in town, this is his finest. Enter via the tube-like “Chunnel” structure, which is meant to “transport” guests from “Paris” to “London.” On the ceiling is a Union Jack, and a neon sculpture that looks like a bunch of random squiggles, but the lines actually represent Ramsay’s hand motions when he’s making a beef Wellington. The Wellington, one of the dishes feared most by contestants on Hell’s Kitchen, is done really well here, in the classic manner, with a filet wrapped in prosciutto and cooked with a mushroom duxelle inside pastry dough (and we can’t imagine why the TV chefs have such a hard time with it). Steaks are a must, and they’re presented to guests on a multi-tiered mirrored cart, so you can decide if you’d like one of the 28-day dry aged cuts or the more marbled American Wagyu. The Wagyu rib cap is pricey, but terrifically luscious and tender. The other Gordon Ramsay restaurants on the Strip have a version of the sticky toffee pudding, but it’s best at the steak house. The traditional English dessert cake comes soaked in brown sugar toffee sauce, with a side that looks like a whole stick of butter, but is really brown butter ice cream.
In Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.gordonramsay.com. 877/346-4642. Main courses $41–$104. Daily 5–10:30pm.
Mesa Grill SOUTHWESTERN One of the first Food Network chefs (after Emeril) to set up shop in Vegas, Flay has proved that his reputation, and his Mesa Grill, has some longevity. He’s known for creating strong Southwestern flavors, but with a delicate touch. The tiger shrimp and tamale is a mainstay at all his restaurants, a combination of sweet shrimp and mildly pungent garlic. While I’d normally never put anything on a steak besides salt and pepper, the chipotle-glaze on the rib eye works like gangbusters. The rest of the menu features dishes that are “ancho-chile glazed” or “New Mexico spice-rubbed,” but in each, the spice is applied with great balance so that flavors never become overwhelming.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.mesagrill.com. 877/346-4642. Main courses brunch and lunch $16–$24, dinner $25–$52. Mon–Fri 11am–2:30pm, 5–11pm; Sat–Sun 10:30am–3pm, 5–11pm.
Old Homestead Steakhouse STEAK Though the steak house is a mainstay of Las Vegas dining, New York has been doing steak waaaay longer. Case in point: Old Homestead, which opened in 1868 in the Big Apple. When Old Homestead finally made it out West, they knew they didn’t have to mess with what’s been working for the past 150 years. The same giant steaks, direct from famed butcher Pat LaFrieda, are all here: the New York Strip, a porterhouse for two, and even the Gotham rib eye, a cut so big that the bone that remains in it makes you feel like Fred Flintstone. Homestead does well by veggies, too, especially the Kitchen Sink Salad, chock full of shrimp, salami, bacon, avocado, and hearts of palm. The rest of the menu is classic steak house fare with insane upgrades, such as shrimp cocktail with some of the biggest shrimp we’ve ever seen, lobster mac and cheese, and duck fat fries.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.theoldhomesteadsteakhouse.com. 877/346-4642. Main courses $37–$90. Sun–Thurs 5–10pm; Fri–Sat 5–10:30pm.
Restaurant Guy Savoy FRENCH In 2006, at the height of the dining revolution in Las Vegas, there was an influx of French chefs to land on the Strip. Guy Savoy, who was a star in Paris, was recruited by the president of Caesars Palace based on one dish: the artichoke black truffle soup. Once you’ve tasted it yourself, you can understand why someone would use their executive powers to bring the person responsible for it to another country. The soup, and Savoy’s other signature dishes, are far from the ultra-modern, deconstructed dishes that come from other French chefs in town. Rather this is French fare elevated to its most elegant form. Colors of Caviar is a shot-glass parfait of expensive roe in layers of black and green, topped tableside with white vinaigrette sabayon. In the fall, during white truffle season, the restaurant gets some of the biggest specimens and creates an entire menu around the expensive tuber—but the best dish in that series is a simple risotto topped with a few delicate shavings of the truffle. These dishes, along with a roaming bread cart (to pair bread with each course, naturally) and dessert cart (the chocolate mousse is Savoy’s own grandmother’s recipe) are ideal introductions for those who want to leap into fine French dining, without being completely lost.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesars.com. 702/731-7286. Reservations required. Signature Menu $26–$90; Innovation Menu $375; main course $80–$110. Wed–Sun 5:30–9:30pm.
Picasso FRENCH As one of the original fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas when Bellagio opened in 1989, Picasso, like the priceless artwork that hangs in it, is timeless. Chef Julian Serrano has been in command since the beginning, and he’s still spinning haute French fare like no other. There are several prix fixe menus to choose from, though they all change often, reflecting the season and whatever looks best that day. Does Serrano’s artful cuisine complement the millions of dollars of artwork or is it the other way around? With dishes like the warm quail salad with sautéed artichokes and pine nuts, roasted milk-fed veal chops, or pigeon and torchon of foie gras, all beautifully presented and arranged by nimble hands in the kitchen, it’s a toss-up. Though we feel that you can see Picasso’s paintings in Vegas more often than you can experience a meal this exceptional.
In Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bellagio.com. 866/259-7111. Reservations required. Prix-fixe 4-course dinner $115, 5-course degustation $125. Sun–Wed 5:30–9:30pm.
Rao’s ITALIAN The original Rao’s in Harlem, New York City is purportedly the hardest reservation in the world to get. With only 13 tables, all of which are claimed with standing reservations, you’ve got to know somebody who knows somebody to eat there. When Rao’s finally decided to expand to Las Vegas, lovers of their classic Southern Italian cuisine rejoiced. The Caesars Palace outpost is an exact replica of the original, complete with Christmas decorations hung up over the bar year-round, portraits of celebrities who have joined them for dinner all along the walls, and the working Wurlitzer jukebox, except this space has the good fortune of having an outdoor patio and being three times the size. The food is essentially the same as it has been for decades, and no one would want that to change. The meatballs are the thing here, made from “Aunt Anna” Rao’s original recipe of pork, beef, and veal, tender and swimming in tangy marinara sauce. Uncle Vincent’s Lemon Chicken, with the right amount of char on the skin to soak up the tart lemon vinaigrette, is mandatory as well. The seafood salad, chock full of calamari, shrimp, crab, and lobster, is tossed in an acidic citronette dressing so bright, we contemplated drinking it right from the plate. For dessert, the tiramisu is one of the booziest in the city.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caeasarspalace.com. 702/731-7267. Main courses $29–$57. Sun–Thurs 5–10pm; Fri–Sat 5–10:30pm.
Rose.Rabbit.Lie CONTINENTAL Billing itself as a supper club, this haphazardly punctuated restaurant does a good job of straddling the lines between fancy dining room, weird entertainment space, and speakeasy. There used to be a show in the performance space next door, which was supposed to bleed into the restaurant, but once the show closed, the restaurant had to figure out how to make use of the random stages throughout the dining room. So if you’re eating in the main room or drinking away in the library bar, you’ll get treated to random lounge musicians with performances just avant garde enough to pique your interest. The focus here is small plates that are small in size, but not in price. Though with dishes like caviar “tacos” on Yukon gold potato shells, duck confit pasta, and crispy oysters Rockefeller, Rose.Rabbit.Lie. can be forgiven. For dessert, don’t miss the chocolate terrarium; a garden served under a glass cloche that features chocolate “dirt” as well as other cocoa-enhanced delights.
At The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.roserabbitlie.com. 877/667-0585. Small plates $9–$38, main courses $24–$56. Wed–Thurs 6pm–midnight; Fri–Sat 6pm–1am.
Strip House STEAK Tucked away into the mezzanine of Planet Hollywood, Strip House is dark and definitely romantic, though the low lighting isn’t the only thing contributing to the intimate atmosphere. The red-flocked walls are dressed with vintage burlesque and borderline naughty photos of barely clad girls (by today’s standards, they seem downright tame). Talk your way into one of the corner booths so you have a view of the rest of the room; the close seating allows you and your dining companion to whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears. The meat program is concise, offering favorite cuts like a New York Strip and dry-aged rib eyes, all served with a bulb of roasted garlic so mild it won’t put a damper on your evening. A side of potatoes crisped up in goose fat is small, but packed with flavor and crunch, while creamed spinach offers a hint of black truffles. And if chocolate is your aphrodisiac, the towering 24-layer chocolate cake should be your sweet finish.
In Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.striphouse.com. 702/737-5200. Main courses $29–$54. Sun–Thurs 5–11pm; Fri–Sat 5–11:30pm.
KID-FRIENDLY DINING STRATEGIES
Buffets Cheap meals for the whole family. The kids can choose what they like, and there are sometimes make-your-own sundae machines. See “Buffets” (p. 142) for buffet reviews. Those with reduced prices for kids are noted.
Food Courts Yes, you can get a Subway sandwich at home, but there is something comforting about the safe array of choices that kids will recognize and probably not complain about. In addition to those listed in the Quick Bites box on p. 105, check out Forum Food Court (p. 120) at Caesars, which has few recognizable names but better quality.
Theme Restaurants Although the cuisine usually won’t win any awards, theme restaurants are often great places to take kids for their wide-ranging menus and plenty of distractions to keep them entertained. See “You Gotta Have a Theme” (p. 102).
Brooklyn Bowl ECLECTIC You got one-stop shopping at this multi-purpose venue: a two-story concert hall at The LINQ, a 32-lane bowling alley, and a restaurant that serves fantastic comfort food. Start on one floor and head to the rest in any order you like. The menu alone might just keep you in the restaurant all night though, thanks to a huge selection that includes hummus, pork rinds, French bread pizzas, and barbecue. For having such a diverse menu, Brooklyn Bowl surprisingly does a good job with all of it. The fried chicken is particularly stellar, and available by the platter or as a dinner. It can even be prepared gluten-free. Oh, and if you do decide to go bowling, definitely keep that separate from eating, as fingers greasy from fried chicken don’t belong in bowling balls.
In The LINQ, 3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Suite 22. www.brooklynbowl.com. 702/862-2695. Main courses $14–$28. Sun–Thurs 11am–2am; Fri–Sat 11am–4am.
Buddy V’s Ristorante ITALIAN Though he’s best known as the Cake Boss on TLC, Buddy Valastro has a savory side too, which he thankfully has decided to share at this restaurant at the front of the Shoppes at Palazzo. The menu is rooted in his family’s original recipes, with favorites like a deep, hearty lasagna, steak pizzaiola, and his mother-in-law’s shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta. It doesn’t have to be Sunday to enjoy the gravy, a rich, chunky red sauce chock full of sausage, lamb, and meatballs, that tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove all day, served in a bowl over rigatoni. Go full on family-style for brunch, for an all-you-can-eat extravaganza that includes salumi, frittatas, eggs al forno, carbonara, and traditional chicken parmesan. As you can imagine, desserts are strong here, with bites like warm Nutella cake, and traditional cannolli crusted with pistachios and filled with sweet pastry cream. But half the fun of the showcase bakery across the hall is the windows into the pastry kitchen, where crowds watch cooks make and fill Valastro’s signature “lobster tail” puff pastry cone with custard cream and fruit.
In The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S. www.buddyvlasvegas.com. 702/607-2355. Main courses lunch $14–26, dinner $14–$46. Sun–Thurs 11:30am–10pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–11pm.
Cabo Wabo Cantina MEXICAN Sammy Hagar not only has his own brand of tequila, but a Mexican restaurant from which to serve it. Celebrity backer notwithstanding, Cabo Wabo has a fun party atmosphere that’s amplified when it spills out on the Strip-front patio. An offshoot of the original Cabo San Lucas location, it’s spring break year-round here, fueled, naturally, with margaritas laden with Hagar’s tequila, that can be slammed by the glass or by the pitcher. Watch out for the “Can’t Drive 55,” a mind-eraser with tequila, Sammy’s Beach Bar rum, vodka, gin, and a couple of mixers—you shouldn’t be driving anything after this. The menu features perfunctory Mexican fare. Though no one’s really expecting it to be Border Grill caliber, it does the job, with tacos, burritos, and enchiladas laying the base for a long night of drinking. The Red Rocker has a residence in Las Vegas, so chances are good you might actually run into him here.
In Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.cabowabocantina.com/vegas. 702/385-2226. Main courses $14–$35. Daily 8am–11pm.
Carmine’s ITALIAN The menu for this family-style Italian restaurant is plastered against the wall, and when you look at the prices—averaging $40 a pop for entrees—you will experience some sticker shock. But the blow is softened when you realized that each order is meant for at least four people (or two really gluttonous ones). With high ceilings and two stories, it feels like a banquet hall, but the servers have a knack for making you feel like you’re the only people there. The chicken wings Scarpariello-style, with hot and sweet cherry peppers, are a great starter before you get into plate-sized veal scaloppine and enough pasta to feed an Italian army. Whether you’re in a big group or a four top (seriously, you want to go with at least three other people), these massive dishes still taste like they were made in a home kitchen. And there’s no shame in asking for a doggy bag.
In The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.carminesvegas.com. 702/473-9700. Family-style main courses $28–$86. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
China Poblano CHINESE/MEXICAN Pronounced “CHEEna poBLAno,” this is chef José Andres’ unlikely mash-up of two popular cuisines. The menu explains that they are related thanks to the Spanish galleons that brought Asian spices and fruits to Mexico and chilies to China. The best part? It’s not really fusion fare, as evidenced by the two different walk-up windows in front: one for tacos, one for dumplings. While we have successfully avoided learning what a ma-po tofu taco would taste like, ultimately China Poblano is a study in regional street food, which you are welcome to mix and match as you please. From the Chinese section (where all the prices end in 88¢ for good luck), we’re fans of the har gow, a standard on dim sum menus; the rou jia mo, the Chinese version of a hamburger with braised red pork on a sesame bun; and When Pigs Fly, steamed barbecue pork buns. Speaking of pigs flying, Andres is the only chef we’d allow to charge us $5 to $10 for one taco, reasonable for fillings like langoustine and slow-cooked Oaxacan-style beef. Also noteworthy are the super-cheesy chilaquiles in a bright green tomatillo salsa.
In The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.chinapoblano.com. 702/698-7900. Small plates $5–$22. Daily 11:30am–11:30pm.
Giada ITALIAN Chefs usually have a restaurant or two under their belts before they are elevated to “celebrity chef” status, but Food Network staple Giada de Laurentiis did it the other way around. After finding success through showcasing her easy-breezy, California Italian cuisine on TV for many years, she finally has a brick-and-mortar to her name. And her name is everywhere in this bright, airy restaurant at The Cromwell that overlooks the Strip. Embroidered on the napkins, embossed on the plates, stitched into backs of the chairs, Giada wants you to know you’re in Giada’s house. Antipasti platters are a great way to start, mixing and matching bites like eggplant caponata, bacon-wrapped dates, cheese and salumi from the market-style deli in the front. Not in the mood for a full-on Italian feast? Skip the dining room, take a seat at the bar and make a meal of the antipasti alone. You’ll save a little money too. Whatever you do, make sure to try at least one of her signature dishes—the lemon spaghetti, or the chicken cacciatore for two. A cute footnote: when Giada refers to Italian dishes in her show, she suddenly turns on her Italian accent, enunciating words like “spah-GEH-ti” and “ree-gah-TOH-ne.” In order for guests to fully channel her, the menu includes phonetic spellings of how she says them aloud. We told you she wants you to know where you’re eating.
In The Cromwell, 3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.thecromwell.com. 702/777-3777. Main courses $25–$81. Daily 8am–11pm.
Gilley’s BARBECUE There’s really only one spot serving real barbecue on the Strip, and it’s this honky-tonk at Treasure Island. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to two-step or are lacking cowboy boots, Gilley’s ’cue is loved by all. There’s a namesake beef and bean chili on the menu, but it was the award-winning green chili that had us wanting another bowl. A rich, tomatillo sauce enhanced with Hatch and poblano chilies, making it tangy and only slightly spicy, it is studded with big chunks of pork, topped with Mexican sour cream, and served with fresh tortillas. Barbecue is done properly here, smoked over a mesquite pit. St. Louis spare ribs get finished with a Southern Comfort barbecue sauce glaze, while the baby back ribs also take a glaze at the end, though you’re more than welcome to order them naked (the ribs, not you) if all you need for flavor is smoke. The combos are the best way to go here, with choices of two to six meats, so you can sample a little bit of everything. Should you want to take a ride on the mechanical bull, make sure you do it before you eat, or wait a good period after—it’s definitely not fun when you’re as stuffed as you’ll get here. Line dancing to help digest is always a good idea.
At Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.gilleyslasvegas.com. 702/894-7111. Main courses $9–$35. Sun–Thurs 11am–2am; Fri–Sat 11am–4am.
Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill PUB/BRITISH If you want to leave Vegas being able to brag you ate at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, yet aren’t into paying an arm and a leg for it (as you would at his steakhouse at Paris), and want more than just a burger to show for it (as you’d get from BurGR at Planet Hollywood), this is your best compromise. During the day it’s a casual pub, comfortable enough to down a few pints from the 36 beers on tap, and perhaps a Scotch egg (traditionally this bar snack would be a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage, but this one is delicate, silky and soft-boiled). At night, when the lights dim in the dining room, the mood shifts and the vibe becomes (slightly) more elegant. I’m particularly fond of the fish & chips: flaky cod dressed in a crunchy Yorkshire ale batter with thick cut chips and mushy peas. A suggested pairing of Innis & Gunn is right on, and also happens to be one of Ramsay’s favorite pints. The front of the bar and dining room are open to the casino floor, which is great for people watching, terrible for intimate conversations.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.gordonramsay.com. 877/346-4642. Main courses lunch $14–$27, dinner $21–$67. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen AMERICAN Even if his name wasn’t emblazoned (literally, with flames on the sign, much like the flames often found on his shirts) on the front of the restaurant, when dishes have names like bacon mac and cheese burger, the Tatted-up turkey burger, and Dragon’s Breath Chili cheese fries, it’s obvious that this restaurant belongs to Food Network favorite Guy Fieri. He’s made his reputation out of showcasing outrageous dishes that fit his ebullient personality. While the food may sometimes feel overwrought (Does wing sauce really need to be infused with Fireball whiskey? Does an Italian deli salad really need a crown of prosciutto-wrapped provolone?), you can’t deny that some of his Franken-flavor combinations work. Like the Guy-talian fondue dippers, which are crunchy breadsticks wrapped with pepperoni, served with an awesome provolone and sausage dip; and The Mayor of Flavortown, a towering pastrami and Swiss sandwich. Fieri attended UNLV before he went on to build his celebrity chef empire, so he’s included a dish that was one of his staples when he was a poor college student: crispy, spiral-cut potatoes tossed Buffalo-style with hot sauce and topped with blue cheese. Fieri’s second Vegas restaurant, El Burro Burracho is at the Rio and features his take on Mexican fare, which means lots more flare but en Español.
In The LINQ, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.guyfieri.com. 702/734-3139. Main courses $16–$32. Sun–Thurs 8am–midnight; Fri–Sat 8am–2am.
Hash House a Go Go AMERICAN If you’re going to actually pay for breakfast in town, please don’t do it at a buffet (brunch is another story, though). Your first meal of the day deserves to be a good one. This is Vegas, after all, you need to be properly fueled. Enter Hash House a Go Go (either at The LINQ, Plaza, Rio, or its original location on the West side) known for 1) “twisted farm food,” and 2) obscenely large portions. For example, the crispy pork tenderloin (used in a sandwich) is pounded out to the size of a Frisbee. When it arrives, eclipsing a tiny bun, it’s comical. Farm Scrambles are served not on plates, but platters, with a thick foundation of griddled mashed or crispy potatoes. The omelets have salmon, tomato, pesto, and brie; or ham, spinach, and cheddar folded in. One of the biggest hits is the fried chicken Benedict, dressed with a reduction of sweet maple syrup, and two eggs on bacon-studded mashed potatoes . . . and there’s a split biscuit somewhere underneath all of that. Lunch and dinner feature more of the same home-style fare, from meatloaf to one-pound burgers, all way bigger than most can finish. Note: Check the website for contact info and directions for other locations.
In The LINQ 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.hashhouseagogo.com. 702/254-4646. Main courses $10–$39. Daily 24 hr.
Holstein’s Shakes & Buns AMERICAN Who knew pigs dressed as cows could be this cute? That’s the motif at Holstein’s, created by local artist Juan Muniz, and it’s part of the appeal of this fancy burger joint, obviously meant to draw in a younger crowd, perhaps even luring in those waiting in line for Marquee right outside. Vegas has many gourmet burger spots to choose from, but Holstein’s is my favorite; they kept it classy, yet funky and cool, which is great when you’ve got burgers like the Gold Standard, made with dry-aged beef sirloin and topped with aged goat cheddar, tomato confit, and garlic-chive aioli. The Steakhouse Burger, a black peppercorn-crusted patty with steak sauce, onion jam, wild mushrooms, and Swiss is also primo. If that sounds too fancy for your tastes, there are plainer options, like the classic with the usual toppings; or the Nom Nom, which, while built on a Kobe beef patty, is dressed with cheddar cheese, potato chips, and thousand island dressing. As far as shakes go, the grown-up Bamboozled varieties are fun (drink more than one of these and you’ll definitely feel it later).
In The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.holsteinslv.com. 702/698-7940. Main courses $12–$30. Sun, Tues–Thurs 11am–midnight; Fri–Sat, Mon 11am–2am.
Lagasse’s Stadium AMERICAN Emeril himself is a self-proclaimed sports guy, so he transformed this space (a former nightclub) into the best man cave ever. You can’t look anywhere without having an HDTV in your line of sight, as there are about 100 of them, broadcasting every sport imaginable. The draw here is the stadium seating, all facing a wall of giant screens, that you have to reserve for big sporting events (table minimums can be hefty, but the comfy couches and personalized service is worth it for a large group). The Super Bowl, as you can imagine, is nuts, as is March Madness. But you’ll also see grown men legitimately interested in women’s college softball—a step forward (or maybe they had bets down). Friendly rivalries all play out in the dining room, with the kitchen rolling out specials that relate to the teams at stake in big games (sometimes they’re reaching, but that’s fine). For the Patriot-Seahawks matchup during Super Bowl XLIX, for example, New England clam chowder and Fanny Bay oysters from Puget Sound were on the menu. The daily offerings are a mix of Emeril’s classic NOLA cuisine, including a shrimp po’ boy, shrimp and grits, and his fantastic etouffee; and pub fare like pizza, burgers, and sandwiches, all with that special “bam” for which Emeril is known.
In The Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.emerils.com. 702/607-2665. Main courses $14–$37. Mon–Fri 11am–10pm; Sat–Sun 8:30am–10pm.
Mon Ami Gabi BISTRO In a town full of faux French bistros, it can be difficult to figure out how they differ from one another. They all serve roasted chicken and steak frites; they all have quiche and charcuterie boards as starters. While Mon Ami Gabi might not have the caliber of chef behind it like Bouchon (p. 108) or Bardot (p. 99), what it lacks in celebrity-affiliation, it makes up for in location. Occupying prime real estate center-Strip at Paris, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, with patio seating and a perfect view of the Fountains of Bellagio, it offers what is quite possibly the best perch for people watching in the city. So what does it matter that the frisee salad with poached egg, the buttery escargot, and the delicate crepes aren’t groundbreaking or original? They’re all done exceptionally well and they charge lower prices than the other Strip bistros. Take note that at dinner the prices do go up a dollar or two, but remember that you’re paying for bigger portions, as well as the view.
In Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.monamigabi.com. 702/944-4224. Main courses $10–$26 lunch, $13–$40 dinner. Sun–Thurs 7am–11pm; Fri–Sat 7am–midnight.
Payard Patisserie & Bistro BISTRO Parisian Francois Payard is best known for his buttery, sugary confections. His coveted chocolate croissants are available from the express line, but those who take the time for a full meal here are amply rewarded. There are few places on the Strip that match this elegant, ladies-who-lunch environment, with barely a dozen tables and an exhibition kitchen in the middle. And the food! The croque madame, one of the best in the city, is a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich laden with béchamel cheese and two fried eggs; while the Benedicts, stacked high with salmon or lobster, rest on buttery, flaky croissants. Lunch offerings are even more substantial, with pressed sandwiches and burgers, and the Niçoise salad will take you right back to Lyon. If you have a minute, take a look at the ornate clock at the front of the cafe; it’s called the Chocolate Clock not because it’s made of chocolate (though that would be worth seeing), but because it dispenses free petit fours when it chimes several times a day.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesarspalace.com. 702/731-7972. Breakfast $16–$22, lunch $16–$28, dinner $16–$30. Daily breakfast 7–11am; lunch Mon–Thurs 11am–1:30pm; Fri-Sun 11am–3pm
Public House GASTROPUB Not to be confused with the venue of the same name at Luxor—that one is more sports bar than gastropub—this temple of spirits has one of the most extensive beer programs on the Strip. There are 24 taps alone, but that doesn’t include the more than 200 IPAs, lagers, and stouts that come in bottles and cans, all of which you can see through the front window in cold storage. Don’t miss out on the true cask ales, which are transported to the bar through lines along the ceiling. And I’m happy to report that they didn’t dumb down the menu to simple pub grub. Sure, burgers and steaks are on offer, but so are more unusual choices, like a duck confit poutine, roasted bone marrow, crispy pig ears, and potatoes Spanish-style with a spicy aioli. If you find the beer list daunting, there’s an in-house cicerone—the beer version of a wine sommelier—who can walk you through and make suggestions. Warning: Since it’s so close to Venetian’s convention space, lunch gets really crowded when there’s a big show in town.
In The Palazzo, 3327 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.publichouselv.com. 702/407-5310. Main courses $14–$44. Daily 11am–11pm.
Serendipity 3 AMERICAN Foot-long hot dogs? Sure. An omelet stuffed with bacon and French fries specifically for hangovers? Why not? Just as the savory items are huge here, so are the sweets, which is Serendipity’s forte. You’ll spot the whimsical space outside of Caesars Palace from a mile away, thanks to its pink striped awning. Inside, the Tiffany lampshades will remind you of the original Serendipity 3 in New York City. One of the most ridiculous items we’ve ever seen here is the Saints and Sinners French toast, which is not simply a couple of slices of Texas toast, but a full loaf of white bread topped with a savory side of bacon and eggs, next to a sweet side with berries and whipped cream. Don’t worry, they’ve cut the crusts off the bread because they’re classy like that. Chocoholics rejoice at the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, a Serendipity signature that combines 20 different types of chocolate to ice-slushy consistency. At a time when so many places are trying to move away from the kitsch of excess in Las Vegas, it’s nice to find spots like this that still embrace it.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesarspalace.com. 877/346-4642. Reservations not accepted. Main courses $10–$20, desserts $10–$1,000. Sun–Thurs 9am–11pm; Fri–Sat 9am–midnight.
Yardbird ECLECTIC Miami probably isn’t the first place you’d think of for Southern comfort food, yet it’s the birthplace of Yardbird, a spot that nails down-home cooking. At first glance, it’s one of those trendy places with exposed filament lighting and reclaimed wood panels on the walls, but that pretention doesn’t harm the food. (They also serve drinks in mason jars, but since they’re from the south we’ll give them a pass.) The key dish here is the fried chicken, named for Llewelyn, one of the grandmothers of the original Yardbird owners, and it’s purported to be her recipe. We don’t care if they invented it in a lab, frankly, it’s that good. The chicken brines for about 27 hours before anybody even thinks about cooking it; then it gets covered in cayenne pepper and deep-fried. You can order the bird alone as a half chicken, or get the whole shebang; it’s served with golden brown, cheddar cheese waffles, honey hot sauce, and chow-chow, a sweet and tangy Southern relish. Besides the chicken, they’ve got a fab version of shrimp and grits, topped with crispy ham; and country-style pate served with pickles that are made in-house. The perfect starter? A set of old school hors d’oeuvres like toast with chicken liver mousse, and a fun BLT stacked with thick-cut bacon and fried green tomatoes. For cocktails, they’ve created an ice program like no other, infusing cubes with herbs like rosemary and thyme, and freezing the sprigs inside; or adding mustard so that as the ice melts, it adds a savory aspect to smoky drinks. It’s weird, but I like it. Even if it is served in a mason jar.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.runchickenrun.com. 702/297-6541. Main courses lunch $13–$28, dinner $14–$55. Mon–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sun 11am–midnight.
Forum Food Court FOOD COURT You might wonder why we’d include a food court in a Vegas guide book when there are plenty of food courts in malls around the country. To put it mildly: decision fatigue. Sometimes you just want to eat, and not think too hard about it, or you just have a taste for one thing but don’t want to pay through the nose or sit through a whole experience to get it. Formerly the Cypress Street Marketplace, this assortment of casual eateries got a facelift, then a name change, and added a few nationally recognized brands: Earl of Sandwich, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Smashburger, DiFara Pizza from Brooklyn, even Philip’s Seafood all the way from Maryland. Sure it’s fast food, but at least it’s not your usual suspects.
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesarspalace.com. 702/731-7110. Most items under $15. Daily 11am–11pm.
Fulton Street Food Court FOOD COURT This one looks like a food court at first glance, but it’s not. And while you order and collect your food yourself, it’s also not a buffet since you pay for each dish a la carte. This is Las Vegas’ first food hall, one of those vast marketplaces that are popping up all over the country that focus on quality-prepared food (rather than mass volume fare). Here, there are nine distinct stations specializing in sushi, pizza, noodles, and comfort food. If you’re on the go, there are options prepared fresh daily, ready for hungry guests to eat and run. Or stay awhile and build your own meal, like custom pizzas and bento boxes, all made to order.
In Harrah’s Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.harrahs.com. 800/214-9110. Most items start at $9. Daily 24 hr.
Gordon Ramsay BurGR BURGERS Gordon Ramsay’s got a high-priced steakhouse, a more casual (but still pricey) pub, and then there’s BurGR, his take on the classic American comfort food. It’s set in a Hell’s Kitchen-themed dining room, with lots of colorful booths and a wall of glass-enclosed fire near the front. The menus feature a glossy shot of Ramsay, with flames behind him, his arms raised, and mouth open as if he’s shouting one of his feared epithets from the show (be glad you’re not in the kitchen!). The menu comprises more than a dozen burgers, which run from the traditional, like the American, to the uber cheesy—topped with Fontina, raclette and goat cheeses. The Brittania burger features a fun mix of English sharp cheddar, mango chutney and arugula; but we’re partial to the Hog Burger, with a patty made of sustainably raised Mangalitsa pork, topped with more sharp cheddar, apple chutney, and greens. Shakes are layered concoctions of multiple flavors, and you order those by number; the #1 includes caramel pudding, chocolate shake, and a toffee cookie. The sticky toffee pudding gets a new treatment as well, served in a tube as a push pop with salted-peanut ice cream. No matter what you think of Ramsay’s persona on TV, this is as fun as his food gets.
In Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.gordonramsay.com. 702/785-5462. Main courses $13–$18. Sun–Thurs 11am–midnight; Fri–Sat 11am–2am.
Pink’s DELI If you’ve been to the iconic Pink’s in Los Angeles, you know how special this hot dog stand is. It’s stood near Hollywood for 7 decades, serving A-list celebrities right along with regular Joes who just want one of their all-beef dogs with the perfect snap. The Planet Hollywood location, right on Las Vegas Boulevard, is the right fit for this legendary shack, even though the celebrity count isn’t as high. But you can still order the same hot dog, with unusual toppings like mushrooms, Swiss, and mayo. The “Vegas Strip” dog features two links in one bun, smothered with mustard, onions, chili, and guacamole; the “Showgirl” is crowned with bacon, onions, relish, tomato, kraut, and sour cream. Come to think of it, we’d like to see an actual showgirl eat one of these, headdress and all. Fortunately, here you don’t have to line up around the block, as you would in L.A.
At Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.planethollywoodresort.com. 702/405-4711. Main courses $6–$10. Sun–Thurs 11am–midnight; Fri–Sat 11am–1am.
Bazaar Meat STEAKHOUSE Chef Jose Andres is one of the most avant-garde chefs of his generation, yet he manages to translate his whimsy into approachable food for the masses. Bazaar Meat, an offshoot of his Bazaar in Los Angeles, is his take on a Vegas steakhouse. The massive room feels like a hipster hunting lodge, with mounted animal heads on the wall and hanging tapestries. Seating is a mix and match of chairs and love seats, all leather, but not all the same. The centerpiece of the main dining room is an open kitchen with a wood-burning grill, where you can watch the cooks searing off big hunks of meat for guests. But there are other counters where guests can dine and interact with chefs, like the charcuterie bar where whole legs of jamon hang from the window. Interaction is a big concept here—you don’t just order oysters, for example, you request them, and a roving oyster server comes to you, pulls one out with a gloved hand, and shucks it right there for you. A starter of a pork skin chicharron—a popular snack in Andres’ native Spain—isn’t simply placed on the table for you to pick at. It’s presented as one large sheet of puffed-up skin; you’re handed a mallet and instructed to smash it to bits. One of our favorite starters is the Wagyu beef carpaccio, served wrapped around a breadstick with Parmesan cheese and an onion dipping sauce. Andres’ meat menu focuses on sustainably sourced cuts, most of them from Angus or Wagyu cows, which explains the exorbitant prices. But there are a few, like a flat iron or skirt steak, that won’t break the bank.
In SLS Las Vegas, 2535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.slslasvegas.com. 702/761-7757. Main courses $38–$125. Sun–Thurs 5:30–10pm; Fri–Sat 5:30–11pm.
North Strip Restaurants
Cleo MEDITERRANEAN Another Los Angeles transplant, Cleo gives a nod to the former Sahara hotel by retaining the slanted ceiling, an original design feature of the space, but updating it with a glamorous black-and-white portrait of Cleopatra. The big open room is narrow and long, with more booths than two- or four-top tables. The main event for diners is the mezze, a small plate of food meant to be shared and in a specific way: fresh, warm flat bread is delivered to the table in paper bags so that eaters can tear a piece and dip it into perfect baba ghanoush or creamy lebneh cheese salty with feta. Other stars among the little plates are crispy, deep-fried Brussels sprouts tossed with chili, hazelnuts, and a spritz of lemon. Flatbreads are another popular item, the Middle Eastern version of pizza, topped with powerful ingredients like merguez sausage, or wild mushrooms with arugula and gruyere cheese. Once you’re done sharing, from the open kitchen in the middle come main entrees like lamb cooked in a tagine (a traditional Moroccan clay pot), or a hearty eggplant moussaka, layered with béchamel and Bolognese sauces.
In SLS Las Vegas, 2535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.slslasvegas.com. 702/761-7612. Small plates $9–$10, main courses $8–$18. Sun–Thurs 6–10:30pm; Fri–Sat 6–11pm.
Costa di Mare ITALIAN/SEAFOOD People used to joke about being afraid to eat seafood in the desert until James Beard Award-winner Paul Bartolotta proved there was nothing to laugh about. He has since left, and his namesake Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare was handed over to chef Mark LoRusso, and the biggest change was apparently only to the name. The seafood at this two-story restaurant is flown in daily from the Italian Mediterranean, caught by regional fishermen whom the chef has met and recruited himself; some of them only catch for him. When the server swings the glass cart around to your table to show you what’s available, you’ll be introduced to specimens like dorade, purple snapper, and scorpion fish, all of which have been out of the water for only about 24 hours. Sweet, giant langoustines come from a very specific region near Italy, and even after much pestering, chefs will not divulge its location. If you choose one of the whole fish, or the langoustines, you can opt to have it grilled simply with olive oil and lemon, or you can go more extravagant and have the fish baked under a salt crust. With the latter treatment, they bring the finished dish out to you on a cart and crack the hardened mound, releasing the fish to filet it for you at the table. Don’t be put off by all the sea salt, the cooking process results in a perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked fish. Pastas are as divine as the bounty from the sea, and they aren’t all dressed with seafood. The ravioli filled with sheep’s milk ricotta and served with pecorino and Marsala wine glaze, and the pappardelle, wide ribbons of pasta with earthy porcini mushrooms, are both eye-rolling good. Like Milos above, the price for seafood this fresh and pristine is exorbitant. But, if you’re going to have one Las Vegas dining splurge in a truly gorgeous setting with impeccable service, this is one of those times where “you get what you pay for” is mandatory.
In Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.wynnlasvegas.com. 888/352-3463 or 702/248-3463. Main courses $21–$150. Daily 5:30–10pm.
Sinatra ITALIAN As the name suggests, this restaurant is an homage to Ol’ Blue Eyes, with giant portraits of him on the wall, and other memorabilia, like his Grammy and his Academy Award for his role in From Here to Eternity. The man behind the menu, Theo Schoenegger was a longtime personal chef for the singer, so he is acutely familiar with what he liked to eat. (Interestingly, Sinatra himself was an avid home cook. He’d often toil all day on Sundays for a large family dinner, offering dishes like the ones you’d find here.) The fare is homey, with dishes like veal Milanese (crusted and pan-fried, topped with arugula), and simple pastas like fusilli with tomato sauce, taking center stage. Should you want to eat “his way,” Frank’s personal favorites were spaghetti and clams in a fragrant tomato broth, and osso buco with creamy risotto Milanese. The soundtrack here, as you’d expect, comes exclusively from the crooner’s catalog, but with contemporary covers here and there; you can even purchase a CD of the piped-in music.
In Encore Las Vegas, 3121 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.wynnlasvegas.com. 702/248-3463. Main courses $27–$55. Daily 5:30–10:30pm.
The Steakhouse STEAK Despite the unimaginative name, this mainstay at Circus Circus is one of the most underrated steakhouses on the Strip. Open for more than 3 decades, this place is about as retro as they come—no renovations here, we’re guessing. Probably the only difference between now and when this place opened is that you can’t smoke in the dim dining room anymore. As you enter, you’re greeted by the dry-aging lockers, where you can peer into the windows to see big hunks of meat aging, creating intensely flavored beef. While many steakhouses on the Strip have a wide variety of options as far as appetizers, starters, and accouterment—at this classic spot you don’t have to make many decisions. You pick your cut of meat, how you want it prepared on the mesquite grill, and you get a choice of potato, and soup or salad. If you feel like you’ll want more, there are other starters available, like the hearty French onion soup, or the shellfish tower. The prices, unfortunately, didn’t stay in the ’70s, but dropping around $100 on a full steak dinner for two is one of the best deals you’ll find on the Strip these days.
In Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.circuscircus.com. 702/794-3767. Main courses $32–$77. Sun–Fri 4–10pm; Sat 4-11pm.
Top of the World CONTINENTAL At nearly 850 feet above the Las Vegas Strip, this revolving restaurant is one of the best perches from which to see the city. The food used to come second, but has, of late, caught up with the lures of the view. As for the cuisine, Top of the World falls somewhere between a steakhouse (there are ample cuts of meat to choose from, like Wagyu skirt steak, or the 60-day aged bone-in Kansas City strip) and a fusion joint (rack of lamb marinated with the zesty herbs of the Moroccan condiment called charmoula is a specialty, as is the succulent pork belly served with bright chimichurri sauce). It takes nearly 90 minutes for one full revolution of the restaurant. Try to score a table right next to the window so you get the full experience, and are able to watch the daring souls drop off from the Sky Jump platform above.
In Stratosphere Casino Hotel, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.topoftheworldlv.com. 702/380-7777. Main courses lunch $25–$34, dinner $40–$80. Daily 11am–11pm.
Red 8 ASIAN This Asian eatery at Wynn is much easier on the wallet than just about every other eatery in the resort (including the other Chinese restaurant, the upscale Wing Lei). Dressed in red, the luckiest color in Asian mythology, it’s a funky, intimate spot overlooking the casino floor (undoubtedly with many players hoping the crimson luck reaches them). The menu is predominantly Chinese, with delicate dim sum, roasted ducks, barbecue, and hearty congee, but you can find other regions of Asia represented as well, with Thai-style vermicelli and Malaysian charred rice noodles also on offer. It’s not fast food, but it is laid back, casual, and quick, so you can have a satisfying meal before you head back to the tables.
In Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.wynnlasvegas.com. 702/770-3380. Main courses $19–$35. Sun–Thurs 11:30am–midnight; Fri–Sat 11:30am–1am.
Andiamo Steakhouse STEAK/SEAFOOD When the Detroit-based chain arrived, it fit right in with the other steakhouses in town, perhaps because it “went native.” The outposts in its hometown are more modern and chic; here, they went all-in on the old-school, but upscale, Vegas vibe. The brick-lined hallway evokes walking through a grotto, while tall, high-backed leather booths make cozy date spots. It’s a place Dean and Frank would have headed to after a show, had this place been around. (It opened in 2013.) In those 2 years, the focus has shifted from the Italian trattoria fare to steaks from butchers like Pat LaFrieda, each served with a selection of sauces. (I think the signature Zip Sauce, a tangy, herby butter whose exact ingredients the staff won’t divulge, is the best choice to go with big cuts like the rib eye and the enormous 32-ounce Tomahawk steak, served with the long rib bone still attached so you can pretend you’re a caveman.) And who features a chopped steak on a menu anymore? This throwback dish, made with the house blend of minced meat, mushrooms, onions, and red wine, brings back more than a few loving waves of nostalgia. If you go Italian, you’ll understand why this chain has been so popular in Detroit for the past 20 years. With dishes like hearty veal ragu with wide ribbons of pappardelle, and potato gnocchi tossed with wild mushroom and Madeira wine sauce, Andiamo has quickly became one of my favorites too.
In The D Las Vegas, 301 E. Fremont St. www.thed.com. 702/388-2220. Main courses $43–$83. Daily 5–11pm.
Hugo’s Cellar CONTINENTAL Among Downtown restaurants, there are those that want to be cutting edge and cool . . . and then there are places like Hugo’s, which will never change. Nor does anyone want it to. As they’ve been doing since they opened, all women receive a red rose when they descend into the below-street-level restaurant, and the rest of the night includes many other rituals, all of which are orchestrated by the affable, well-mannered, and devoted waitstaff. Their duties extend beyond taking and bringing your orders; salads are prepared from a cart they roll up to your table, with choices like shrimp, marinated artichokes, hearts of palm, and chopped eggs, to be tossed with romaine lettuce. Watch as they deftly prepare one to your specifications. They’ll also carefully recommend mains, which aren’t as exciting as the salad, but come with grandiose names like “chicken champignon” and “duckling anise flambé”—it’s nice to know these continental standards of a bygone era have somehow survived here. Desserts are included with your entree, so you must have the bananas foster or cherries jubilee, which is also prepared tableside, and set ablaze (hooray!). Considering how the Las Vegas culinary scene has evolved in the last decade, it’s not a bad idea to see where it all started.
In the Four Queens, 202 Fremont St. www.hugoscellar.com. 702/385-4011. Main courses $44–$67. Daily 5–10pm.
Oscar’s Beef Booze Broads STEAK What does a former mob lawyer and mayor of Las Vegas do after he retires? Hizzoner Oscar Goodman opens a steak house, of course. And it’s like a shrine built to a person who hasn’t died yet, including memorabilia and photographs from the 12 years he ruled this city. It also has all the elements of a classic Vegas experience. The beef: cuts of meat like Joe C’s filet and the Spilotro steak (nods to former clients when Goodman was a lawyer) are cooked over 600-degree grills for a nice crust on the outside. The booze: Do as Oscar does and drink a cold, stiff martini with dinner. The broads: The introvert in us had a hard time wrapping our head around this, but Goodman wanted to evoke the memory of the old days, when showgirls would sit and socialize with guests. Here, ladies come up and chat with you, and are capable of carrying on real conversations about sports and history and offer tips on Las Vegas. That’s it. No ulterior motives, just a nice chat with a pretty girl. I gotta say: you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a truly Vegas-dedicated experience elsewhere in the city.
In The Plaza, 1 Main St. www.oscarslv.com. 702/386-7227. Main courses $25–$45. Daily 5–11pm.
La Comida MEXICAN After passing on ownership of N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms, local restaurateurs Michael and Jenna Morton set their sights on Downtown and their first Mexican restaurant. It’s a very Downtown Las Vegas sort of place, in that Downtown restaurants don’t want to appear like they’re in Las Vegas at all. The dim restaurant opens to a rustic dining room, featuring dark woods, plaster, brick-exposed walls, and Day of the Dead-Santaria-inspired decor. A walk-up window outside allows bartenders to serve guests who don’t have the time to stop in. The menu goes above and beyond what you’d expect from a neighborhood Mexican joint, including full-roasted sea bass prepared Veracruz-style with onions, olives. and chiles, and marinated beef steak with nopales, or prickly pear fruit and roasted poblano peppers. Of course there are also tacos on the menu, with toothsome fillings like chicken with salsa verde and avocado, or carnitas with pickled red onions. The margarita list is worth noting here, thanks to an impressive selection of tequilas on which to base the fresh fruit flavors.
100 Sixth Ave. (btw. Fremont St. and Carson Ave.). www.lacomidalv.com. 702/463-9900. Main courses $15–$25. Mon–Thurs 11:30am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–2am.
Pizza Rock PIZZA Las Vegas used to be a not-very-good pizza town, but that’s slowly changing. When Tony Gemignani brought his California-based Pizza Rock to Las Vegas, he didn’t just bring one style of pizza with him, he brought all of them. Gemignani, who is also an 11-time World Pizza Champion, installed five different types of electric, gas, and wood-burning ovens to be able to prepare 10 different regional styles of pizza. There’s the proper Napoletana-style pizza, with a chewy, blistered crust (this is the one that earned him a few awards); they only make a set amount of dough for this pizza each day, so when they’re out, they’re out. The rectangular Roman pies are long enough to warrant three different sections of toppings on them. New York pizza lovers are represented as well, along with Detroit and the underrated New Haven, CT-style of pizza. And we like that instead of trying to tackle Chicago deep dish, he went the opposite direction, making cracker-thin crust that can be topped with traditional ingredients like fennel-laced sausage. As for the ambiance: the music is loud, and as the name suggests, rock-heavy, and there’s a curious half-cab of a semi truck that anchors one side of the dining room, which also serves as the DJ booth. A second Pizza Rock location recently opened at Green Valley Ranch, with Little Tony’s at Palace Station for a closer slice.
201 N. Third St. (at Ogden Ave.). www.pizzarocklasvegas.com. 702/385-0838. Main courses $10–$25. Sun–Thurs 11am–midnight; Fri–Sat 11am–2am.
Stewart + Ogden AMERICAN After a few hiccups with its dining program, Downtown Grand finally settled on keeping S+O (its shorthand name) as its main restaurant. Open 24 hours, it’s got all the makings of a classic Vegas coffee shop, but with funky, colorful decor that matches the artful design of the Downtown Grand. While you’ve got classics like two-egg breakfasts, and chicken and waffles, there are also more eclectic selections, from a Hawaiian-style loco-moco of a hamburger patty with gravy over rice, to oxtail soup, perfect for hangovers. Comfort food rounds out the rest of the menu, with servings of thick slabs of meatloaf, fried chicken, and the ultra-hearty braised short rib. Compared to what you’d be paying for food this good on the Strip, a meal here is always a steal.
At the Downtown Grand, 206 N. 3rd St. (at Ogden Ave.) www.downtowngrand.com. 702/719-5100. Main courses breakfast $9–$12, lunch $5–$14, dinner $11–$20. Daily 24 hours.
American Coney Island DELI/HOT DOGS Despite its name, this legendary restaurant came from Detroit, not New York, though the hot dog-heavy menu does suggest boardwalk fare. The original was opened in 1917 by a Greek immigrant who put chili, onions, and mustard on a griddled link, thereby creating a regional style of hot dog. The descendants of this gentleman finally expanded their brand to Las Vegas and the hotel that is closely associated with its hometown. The menu is small, but so is the one in Detroit; it includes the namesake hot dog, topped with the classic, no-bean chili that has a hint of cinnamon, and Midwestern-style lamb gyro, with proper, homemade tzatziki yogurt sauce as dressing. Being happily fed for under $10 makes the grub all that much more tasty. FYI, Detroit natives, there is not a competing Lafayette Coney Dog next door like in Motor City.
In The D Las Vegas, 301 E. Fremont St. www.thed.com. 702/388-2400. Main courses under $5. Daily 24 hr.
Bier Garten AMERICAN The whole point of a beer garden is to sit outside and drink all day, so don’t bother with the indoor seating of this Plaza restaurant; you’ll be subjected to watching people eat McDonald’s from the food court. Grab a seat at one of the picnic tables in the gorgeous backyard—complete with grass, pergola for a little shade, and outdoor TVs—and you’re set. It’s a pleasant change from the attempted urbanization of Downtown. That beer washes down a large selection Wursts (sausages) named after fallen Las Vegas casinos. The Stardust is a favorite, a German brat with caramelized onions, kraut, and sweet mustard, while those who like their sausage more avant garde—and messy—will enjoy the Golden Slipper, made with Andouille, bacon, cream cheese, and a fried egg. The selections also come with listed beer pairings so you can make sure you’re getting all the right flavors. If sausage isn’t your game, there are German-style pretzels and French fries that are meant to be dressed with an assortment of dipping sauces, like sriracha ketchup and Cheese Whiz.
At The Plaza Hotel & Casino, 1 S. Main St. (at Fremont St.). www.biergartenlv.com. 702/386-2110. Main courses all under $10. Daily 11am–midnight.
Big Ern’s BBQ BARBECUE Barbecue is such a divisive topic that true connoisseurs refuse to believe that it can be properly made outside of the South. Add to that the fact that Big Ern himself is from California, and ’cue aficionados grow even more skeptical. But once you smell the smoke from his brisket or pulled pork, you’ll know this is the real deal. Ern’s shop in Downtown Container Park is small, but packs ’em in. Diners clamor not only for the brisket here, but also for chicken, hot links, and ribs, all served with a sweet sauce that’s more molasses than Kansas City. Carolinans might take offense at the sauce, but they won’t be able to resist the meats on their own. It’s also rare to find a BBQ joint outside the Midwest that serves rib tips, but here they can be added on to any rib dinner. Complete your meal with classic sides like pork and beans, cole slaw, or a baked potato, make your way to a spot in the park, and enjoy a barbecue feast that won’t make you miss the South.
In the Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St. (at 7th St.). www.bigernsbbq.com. 702/834-7845. Main courses $7–29. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–1am.
Carson Kitchen AMERICAN Chef Kerry Simon built his culinary empire all over Vegas, starting at Hard Rock, then the Palms, and a few other spots here and there, but this is his crowning achievement. It’s a two-story, relaxed, neighborhood restaurant—something that restaurateurs all over the city are desperately trying to replicate—serving up contemporary, seasonal, and addictive, comfort food. A starter of crispy chicken skins—yes, just the skins—comes with a small dose of smoky honey, and you’ll eat them like potato chips. The “butter burger” is just as fun, served with creamy boursin and cheddar cheese, and yes, cooked in a healthy dose of butter. But don’t worry, the menu’s not all calorie bombs. One of the best dishes we’ve ever eaten was Carson Kitchen’s spicy ragu of rabbit, served with spaghetti squash—something that healthy should never be that delicious. The cocktail program includes thoughtful, multi-faceted drinks that run the gamut from clean and fruity to smoky and masculine. Grab a seat at the counter so you can watch the chefs in the open kitchen, and keep an eye on the “swear jar” to see how they’re doing.
124 S. 6th St. (at Carson Ave.). www.carsonkitchen.com. 702/473-9523. Main courses $12–$19. Sun–Wed 11:30am–10pm; Thurs–Sat 11:30am–11pm.
Doña María Tamales MEXICAN For more than 30 years, this standalone restaurant has been the house that tamales built. Situated between the Strip and Downtown, it’s a convenient location when you need a proper Mexican fix. Its expansive menu that features all of Mexico’s greatest hits: ample platters of tacos, burritos, enchiladas and, my favorite, handmade tamales (unwrap the corn husk to reveal packets of masa filled with pork, chicken, cheese, or beef, or in the dessert version, pineapples, and raisins). The chili rellenos are dauntingly big, but getting every bite down won’t be a problem because they’re so good. Dinners come as full-on meals, complete with rice, beans, soup or salad, and tortillas.
910 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Charleston Blvd.). www.donamariatamales.com. 702/382-6538. Main courses breakfast and lunch $8–$15, dinner $9–$15. Daily 8am–10pm.
Eat AMERICAN Eat was one of the first restaurants to open during the recent period of gentrification Downtown, and fortunately, has managed to stay open, unlike others in its class. Chef Natalie Young cut her teeth at restaurants on the Strip for many years before finding this opportunity. She created a restaurant she knew the area needed; a place that doesn’t seem like it belongs in Las Vegas at all. The storefront features funky decor, local art, and a tiered herb garden near the front, welcoming guests in to dine. Only open for breakfast and lunch, the place always seems to be bumping with guests there for her Southern-influenced fare. Shrimp and grits are outstanding, and hearty egg dishes like the flavorful truffled egg sandwich with chives, feta, and bacon are served all day. For lunch, I’m a huge fan of the classic reuben sandwich, along with the shrimp po’ boy with spicy kimchi slaw. Brunch is worth the wait, especially for the proper beignets blanketed in powdered sugar, but as they have live music, when you’re in such a small space, you might be shouting to be heard by the person next to you.
707 Carson Ave. (at 7th Ave.). www.eatdtlv.com. 702/534-1515. Main courses $6–$13. Mon–Fri 8am–3pm; Sat–Sun 8am–2pm.
Goodwich SANDWICHES Originally housed in a weird little kiosk outside of a local dive bar, Dino’s, Goodwich quickly made a name for itself with excellent, reasonably priced gourmet sandwiches. Now that it’s moved into its own brick-and-mortar space, the prices have slightly gone up, but the sandwiches are just as fantastic. Starting at $6.50, Goodwich offers bites like the thick-cut ham, cheddar, and greens with a tangy mostarda, or an egg salad Sammie with crispy chorizo. A nice innovation: the BTLG (bacon, tomato, lettuce, and pimento cheese grits). The Reuben-ish features house-made corned beef that’s stacked with Swiss and fennel sauerkraut, dressed with a luscious thousand island sauce.
1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.the-goodwich.com. 702/910-8681. Sandwiches $6.50–$10. Mon–Fri 7am–10pm; Sat–Sun 8am–10pm.
Heart Attack Grill BURGERS The only reason we can think of including this absolutely ridiculous restaurant in this book is so you can make an educated, conscious decision to not go here. Sure, the hospital theme, where the waitresses are dressed as naughty nurses and guests are wearing hospital gowns is “cute.” And offering vegans non-filtered cigarettes as an entree is not “PC” but it’s darn funny. But when you tout items like butterfat shakes, onion rings and french fries cooked in pure lard, plus an 8,000-calorie Quadruple Bypass burger to which you can add 20 slices of bacon, even in a town known for excess, you might as well promise yourself a seat in Circle 3 along with the other gluttons in Dante’s Inferno. Promise guests who are over 350 pounds that they can eat for free? Now that’s just tempting the same fate that befell their unofficial spokesperson who dropped dead of guess what? A heart attack. Those who don’t finish their bypass burgers get spanked by a nurse with a paddle—filmed and placed on the Internet for all to see. We know, we know, ’Merica, freedom of choice, don’t tread on me, fine. If you really want to, go, just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
450 E. Fremont St. 702/254-0171. www.heartattackgrill.com. Main courses $8–$15. Cash only. Daily 11am–2am.
Pinches Tacos MEXICAN Spanish speakers might be taken aback at the name (pinches isn’t a nice word) but most see the humor in it. And most enjoy the straightforward, affordable food of this Los Angeles-based chain. It’s your standard menu, including tacos, sopes, tortas, burritos, flautas, and enchiladas, with typical fillings of beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp (the addition of cactus for vegetarians is a nice touch). None of it is fancy, but the food does have a nice home-style flavor, which is a welcome reprieve from the many other Mexican restaurants in town that just phone it in. The restaurant is set in Container Park in a small container with minimal seating, so guests mostly eat in the park itself, which is fine as long as it’s not the throes of summer.
In the Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St. (at 7th St.). www.pinchestacos.com. 702/910-3100. Main courses $3–$9. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–1am.
Viva Las Arepas VENEZUELAN Las Vegas strip malls are where you can find some of the best hole-in-the-walls we’ve got. Take Viva Las Arepas, which began in the kiosk now occupied by Goodwich, and gained such a following it needed a bigger kitchen and an actual dining room. If you’ve never eaten the Venezuelan street snack, arepas are savory, griddled cornmeal cakes that are stuffed with a wide variety of ingredients. I prefer them chock full, as in the Reina Pepiada, which has chicken breast, avocados, mayo, and cilantro. Vegetarians can opt for vegetables, black beans, or cheese, or all three. Other than the arepas, the roasted, marinated chicken is a big seller here, cooked over mesquite wood for nice char and flavor. Add in a few authentic sides, like fried yucca or plantain, for a filling and tasty, but still inexpensive, meal.
1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Oakey Blvd.). www.vivalasarepas.com. 702/366-9696. Main courses $4–$10. Daily 8am–midnight.
JUST OFF THE STRIP
Alizé FRENCH As one of the first French chefs to arrive in Las Vegas, Andre Rochat set the tone of fine dining, first in his eponymous cottage restaurant Downtown, and later, here, at the top of the Palms. Whereas the other Andre’s at Monte Carlo serves classic French fare, Alizé’s mandate is for exciting haute cuisine to match its setting: the corner restaurant has three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the city. Just as much beauty is on the plate. The seasonal menu can be enjoyed a la carte, but for $155, the seven-course tasting menu isn’t outrageous by Vegas standards, and it offers the opportunity to try a little bit of everything that makes this restaurant so special. Diners are offered three options for each course, and at least one is vegetarian (often the most appetizing one). One of the last times we visited, we were treated to elegant presentations of foie gras torchon with just-sweet-enough fruit, and a rack of lamb accented with Moroccan merguez sausage and a galette of summer vegetables. With a menu that changes this frequently, it’s hard to say that your dishes will be anything close to ours, but I do know that the experience will likely be just as divine.
In Palms Resort & Casino, 4321 W. Flamingo Rd. www.alizelv.com. 702/951-7000. Reservations strongly recommended. Main courses $47–$57, 7-course tasting menu $155. Daily 5:30–10:30pm.
CHEF ANDRÉ ROCHAT’S TOP 10 THINGS ONE SHOULD NEVER ASK A FRENCH CHEF
French-born chef André Rochat has been delighting Las Vegas audiences with his fine cuisine since 1973. His restaurants Alizé at the Palms and André’s at Monte Carlo are among the most popular and best-reviewed French restaurants in the city, so who better to ask what you shouldn’t ask him?
1.May I have my duck breast well done?
2.May I have A-1 sauce with steak au poivre?
3.I brought this from my garden; can you cook it for me?
4.I want the lobster Thermidor; but can you hold the cream?
5.Can I have the crème brûlée as an appetizer?
6.May I order a soufflé to go?
7.Can we do the seven-course chef’s tasting menu in 45 minutes?
8.Can I have mint jelly with the rack of lamb?
9.Will you keep the food under the heat lamps in the kitchen while we go smoke?
10. May I have ketchup with the lobster Thermidor?
And yes . . . Chef André says he’s actually been asked these questions. Welcome to Las Vegas!
Pamplemousse FRENCH It doesn’t get a lot of play in the press these days, but that doesn’t mean that Pamplemousse isn’t still very much a part of the Las Vegas landscape. Set in a low-slung building on East Sahara, the restaurant has been around almost 4 decades, and was once the epitome of fine dining in town. Outside, it looks like something you might find in the French countryside. Inside, it’s as though time has stood still, and you’re transported to Vegas in the late 1970s: low ceilings, round red booths, and a domed Tiffany ceiling above the main dining room. Although the building and interiors have seen better days, the food is still as elegant as ever, starting with a mandatory starter of crudite (raw vegetables), with their signature house-made vinaigrette. Most of the menu derives from Provence, like the osso buco with a white wine sauce, mushrooms, olives, and tomatoes, and the rack of spring lamb with crusted pistachios, served with a light rosemary sauce. In an era when many chefs are creating their presentations with tweezers and microgreens, Pamplemousse plates dishes in the continental-style; that is to say, with its sauce and a simple side garnish. The food doesn’t need more than that. Plus, it’s super dark inside so you can’t see much anyway.
400 E. Sahara Ave. (btw. Santa Paula and Santa Rita drives, just east of Paradise Rd.). www.pamplemousserestaurant.com. 702/733-2066. Main courses $24–$42. Tues–Sun 5–10pm.
Restaurants Beyond the Strip
Alder & Birch STEAK As you’re navigating your way through the Mardi Gras-themed Orleans casino to find its new steakhouse, it might help to know that Alder & Birch looks completely out of place. In stark contrast to the garish holiday decor, the restaurant has a modern facade and floor-to-ceiling windows separated by tall panels of rich wood. Inside, away from the madness of the casino floor, the surprise continues, with the a downright sleek dining room, its decor a mix of neutral colors and natural and industrial finishes. The menu is classic for a contemporary Vegas steakhouse, with intriguing selections such as watermelon salad with goat cheese and sea salt, and beef carpaccio with arugula, mustard and capers. I was pleased to learn that the raw oysters came direct from New Orleans, as sort of proof that Alder & Birch knew exactly where it was. The dry-aged Wagyu sirloin looks tempting, but for more bang for your buck (which you can get quite a lot of here), the rib eye makes more sense for serious carnivores. The other nice touch is the craft beer selection on tap—several from local brewery Joseph James—plus a thoughtful cocktail list. The Orleans has been in the midst of a $30 million renovation, and we’re glad they started with its restaurants.
In the Orleans, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave. (at Arville St.). www.orleanscasino.com. 702/365-7111. Reservations recommended. Main courses $24–$49. Sun–Thurs 5–10pm; Fri–Sat 5–11pm.
Culinary Dropout AMERICAN As you might be able to tell from the name, this restaurant wants to be the cool kid on the block. And I gotta say: they succeed. The inside is a black box, with open ductwork running across the ceiling, intentionally mismatched furniture, and ornate chandeliers. There’s no set uniform for the servers, who wear what they like to work each day, which gets very confusing for patrons trying to get the check. Hipster aesthetic aside, CDO’s food is less confusing, even though the menu is diverse. Comfort food reigns supreme, starting with signature soft pretzels, served with a beer cheese dipping sauce, or the fragrant mussels in bath of Stella Artois broth, served with grilled bread. The fried chicken is a specialty, and it’s made to order, which means it will come 20 minutes after the other food. It’s worth the wait: with a flaky buttermilk biscuit and a drizzle of honey, you’ll burn your fingers because you’ll want to eat it so fast. The outdoor patio seating is one of my favorite spots when it’s nice out, mainly because each section is set up like a living room, great for group lounging.
In the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Rd. (at Harmon Ave.). www.culinarydropout.com. 702/522-8100. Main courses $14–$32. Mon–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri 11am–midnight; Sat 10am–midnight; Sun 10am–11pm.
Fú ASIAN From the family who ran the original Mayflower, one of the first upscale Chinese restaurants in town, comes this contemporary Asian eatery at Hard Rock. Fú means “luck,” which is what they’re hoping to bring you with dishes like their Hong Kong-style wonton noodle soup and a reasonably priced Peking Duck presentation. Fú recognizes the diversity of its clientele, so the food straddles the fine line between authentic and Americanized, offering familiar dishes like General Tso’s chicken and Mongolian beef alongside bona fide spicy ma po tofu and fish maw soup with crab. In addition to Chinese offerings, there are a few other pan-Asian options, like the Korean marinated short ribs and the miso cod in lettuce cups.
In the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Rd. (at Harmon Ave.). www.hardrockhotel.com. 702/522-8188. Main courses $16–$30. Sun–Thurs 11:30am–10pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–11pm.
Hofbräuhaus GERMAN If the name—and the looks—of this restaurant are familiar, that’s because it’s a Madame Tussaud’s-worthy replica of the famed beer hall in Munich (the one that’s been around for four centuries). The food is sehr German, including schnitzel, strudel, and wurst, but the real treats are from the schmankerl (which means “treat”) section. Sauerbraten cooked in red wine is the Bavarian equivalent of pot roast, jägerschnitzel is a hunter’s dish of a pork cutlet topped with mushrooms, bacon, onion, and spaetzle. It’s all hearty, all meaty, and all meant to be eaten with a cold brew in the other hand, while listening to live polka and oom-pah bands. The beer, it turns out, tastes this authentic because it’s brewed at the original site and imported here, so even the Dunkel and Hefeweizen are the real deal. In the event you can’t make it to Germany, the Oktoberfest here, like in Munich, starts in September, with parties every week featuring local Vegas celebrities in keg-tapping ceremonies.
4150 Paradise Rd. (at Harmon Ave.). www.hofbrauhauslasvegas.com. 702/853-2337. Main courses $10–$25. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
Naked City Pizza PIZZA It turns out Buffalo isn’t just known for its chicken wings. The chef here, who started out at a casino on the Strip before breaking out on his own, was born and raised in upstate New York, and he’s introduced Las Vegas to his regional pie, made in rectangular pants like Sicilian-style, but with a thinner crust. Yes, you can order it by the slice (which are pretty sizeable on their own), but a slice of cheese can be had anywhere on the Strip. What you’re going for at Naked City are the specialty pizzas, like the Stinger, topped with chicken fingers, steak, mozzarella and cheddar and bleu cheese, plus sweet and hot peppers. Or the Fat Boy, a red sauce meat-lover’s dream with salami, pepperoni, ham and Italian sausage. And if you’re going big, you should also know they come in three sizes: Wee, Not So Wee, and Frickin’ Huge (translated from Buffalo, NY parlance, that’s a quarter sheet pan, half a sheet pan, and a full sheet pan, respectively). And yes, they’ve got chicken wings, too.
4608 Paradise Rd. (at E. Naples Dr.). www.nakedcitylv.com. 702/722-2241. Pizzas $8–$38. Mon–Wed 11am–11pm; Thurs–Sat 11am–3am; Sun 11am–1am.
Piero’s Italian Cuisine ITALIAN A beloved Las Vegas institution, Piero’s has been a longtime hangout for Vegas bigwigs from every industry—Rat Packers, hotel bosses, performers, and even folks they refer to as “casino industry businessmen,” which is a nice way of not calling them mob guys. On any given night, you can still see local execs and politicians having dinner around the tables with their families. The rule of the house: everybody gets to eat in peace, so even if you see a celebrity, play it cool. If you walk in and think you’ve been there before, you might recognize the dining room from the film Casino, which shot several iconic scenes with Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, and Sharon Stone in the low, leather booths here. To encourage a convivial atmosphere, bartenders are heavy-handed with what they call a “stiff pour.” The menu has stayed essentially the same since Piero’s first opened in 1982, if only because the Glusman family who runs it has a very “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. Favorites include the chef’s special veal scallopine, pounded thin and tender, then battered and covered with prosciutto and cheese, and linguine alla vongole, or with clams, a favorite of Sinatra’s whenever he came in. If their guests who have been coming in for 30 years don’t need a change, neither do we.
355 Convention Center Dr. www.pieroscuisine.com. 702/369-2305. Main courses $32–$49. Daily 5:30–10pm.
Ping Pang Pong CHINESE When high rollers jet in from Asia, this is usually the first place they head for a meal. In fact, the vast majority of the clientele is from that corner of the globe, because it’s near impossible to find Chinese fare this authentic elsewhere in Las Vegas. A lot of the menu is Cantonese fare—noodle soups, barbecue meats, roasted duck, and clay pots stuffed with rice and other meaty bits—but other regions are represented as well. One of our favorite times to go is for dim sum brunch, when the steam carts piled high with bamboo and metal containers are pushed around the room. The caliber of dim sum here is close to what I’ve eaten in Hong Kong, especially the fresh har gow, shrimp dumplings with translucent wrappers, the long rolls of rice noodles, and the dense, steamed meatballs with cilantro. It’s also a popular late night dining spot.
In the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino, 4000 W. Flamingo Rd. www.goldcoastcasino.com. 702/367-7111. Main courses $10–$25. Daily 10am–3pm and 5pm–3am.
Capriotti’s SANDWICHES Originally from Delaware, this smallish chain (only in about a dozen other states, so it’s no Subway, thankfully) has had a hold on Las Vegas ever since it opened its first here 15 years ago. The storefront isn’t much to look at, but that’s ok when you’ve got enormous sandwiches to dig into. Most popular is “the Bobbie,” with its combination of thick cut turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, reminiscent of your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers, but I’m more partial to the Capistrami, a pseudo-Reuben made with hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw. If that’s too much stuff on a sandwich for you, the submarine options have more classic combinations, like Italian deli meats, or ham and cheese. The turkey and beef are all roasted in-house. The perfect bread—so nice and soft, but with the proper integrity so that it doesn’t disintegrate under the weight of multiple toppings—is also made in house. There are several outposts throughout the Valley, but this is the closest to the Strip and freeway.
322 W. Sahara Ave. (at Las Vegas Blvd. S.). www.capriottis.com. 702/474-0229. Most regular sandwiches under $10. Mon–Sat 10am–8pm; Sun 11am–7pm.
Chada Thai THAI It was only a matter of time before a Lotus of Siam (see below) alum left the nest to open his own place. Located in west Chinatown, this small, modern storefront tends to get busy late at night, when chefs and other industry folk get off their shifts. They’ve got a few Northern specialties here, but leave that to Lotus of Siam. Here, the dishes you’re already familiar with are the must-haves. Watch out for spice levels, as they’re serious about the term “Thai spicy.” Crab lettuce wraps, for example, offer a kick to the throat that will surprise even chili-heads. Classic tom yum soup with shrimp is fragrant, and will clear you right up if you’re having sinus issues. Try to get there early enough to sample the nua dad diew, a tender beef jerky served with a sweet chili fish sauce that often runs out by the end of the night. After you eat it here, you’ll realize you’ve never known pad thai was supposed to be this nuanced. The owner, Bank Atacharawan was the former general manager and sommelier at Lotus, and he’s transferred his knowledge here, with a well-curated list heavy on white, sweeter wines that complement Thai spices, at reasonable price points.
3400 S. Jones Blvd., Suite 11A. www.chadavegas.com. 702/641-1345. Reservations recommended. Main courses $8–$23. Daily 5pm–3am.
Ellis Island Cafe DINER Prime rib, $14.99. That’s all you really need to know about this 24-hour coffee shop. Not only is that one of the best prices that we’ve ever seen for a king cut slab of roast beef plus two sides, but it also happens to be the most expensive thing on the menu. And for that, Ellis Island is a huge hit with both locals and visitors. But in the event that you’re not in the mood for prime rib, the kitchen does a good job on the rest of the menu, starting with an even better-priced steak and eggs ($10.99), a solid assortment of sandwiches, and a build-your-own burger. Additionally, the brewery on premises produces seven different types of suds, some of which are seasonal, and a primo pairing for your reasonably priced meal.
In Ellis Island Casino, 4178 Koval Lane (at Flamingo Rd.). www.ellisislandcasino.com. 702/733-8901. Main courses $5–$15. Daily 24 hr.
Flock & Fowl ASIAN You may be wondering why I’m sending you to a sketchy strip mall on Sahara for something that sounds as mundane as boiled chicken and rice. What if I were to tell you this was the best chicken and rice you’ll probably have in the United States? It’s not just chicken and rice, of course, but Hainanese chicken and rice, an Asian comfort food that sounds simple, but is far from easy to make and perfect when done correctly. Restaurants in Singapore have cult followings for this dish alone. Chef Sheridan Su, who cut his chops at Strip restaurants such as Joel Robuchon before striking out on his own (he also owns the fun Fat Choy in the Eureka casino), fell in love with the humble dish when he and his wife (who works behind the counter) were traveling in Asia, and decided to open a restaurant serving just that. Organic chicken is poached until cooked to the proper texture and temperature, and the broth is used to cook the fragrant rice. It’s served with traditional condiments all made in-house, like garlic, ginger and scallions minced in oil, sweet soy sauce and spicy sambal. Everyone doctors their chicken and rice in their own way, sometimes customizing it with every bite. For now, the restaurant is only open for lunch and seats about 15, but it’s not uncommon for them to sell out. It’s that good.
380 W. Sahara Ave. (at Las Vegas Blvd. S.). www.flockandfowl.com. 626/616-6632. Entrees under $10. Tues–Sat 10:30am–3:30pm.
Lotus of Siam THAI The grand poobah of the city’s ethnic restaurants, once named the “Single Best Thai Restaurant in North America” (by the late, great Gourmet magazine), and winner of the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southwest” award in 2011, the venerable Lotus of Siam remains one of the city’s best-reviewed and best-loved restaurants. It gets all its plaudits without all the extras that tend to dazzle diners at other restaurants. Its location is terrible, in a dingy strip mall; its decor ho-hum, most notable for the dozens of photos of beaming, full-looking celebrities; and if you come late at lunchtime you’ll likely be upset that the buffet is one of diminishing returns, as it doesn’t get refilled when the food runs out. But this is not a buffet-type place anyway, nor should you just expect upgrades of your same-old, same-old Pad Thai. To really get why foodies drive down from L.A. regularly just to dine here (and I know a couple who do), you have to put yourself in Bill’s hands. Bill is the husband of chef Saipin Chutina, and he makes the reverse trip to L.A. once a week to buy fresh ingredients, jetting off to Thailand about once a month to get spices blended to his wife’s specifications. Bill will know what’s best that day (and if Bill’s not there, ask for Tony) and he’ll steer you towards the Saipin (Northern) Thai specialties that really make this place unique. As an example: Nua Dad Deaw, a dry fried beef, almost like a lime-infused beef jerky, that’s so addictive, I save the leftovers to munch in my car the next day. Or the Nam Kao Tod ($7.95), a wonderfully tart sausage, dry in texture, nutty, minty, and sided by crispy deep-fried rice. Or the jackfruit curry with smoked fish, or a crispy mussel omelet served with a spicy red sauce that makes this dish so much more special than just eggs. I list all of these just to give you an idea of what your meal could be like, but really, ignore what I’m writing here, and go with what Bill recommends, as he knows best. Just be sure to tell him how much spice you can take, and don’t overestimate your tolerance; the kitchen will sear your tongue off if you ask for it hot. Mr. Chutima is also in charge of the stellar wine program, heavy on Rieslings and other vintages that pair well with spicy cuisine.
In the Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara Ave. www.lotusofsiamlv.com. 702/735-3033. Main courses $10–$29. Mon–Fri 11am–2:30pm and 5:30–10pm; Sat–Sun 5:30–10pm.
Plenty of opportunities exist in Vegas for satisfying your sweet tooth, but for the discriminating, here are four spots you may have to make a detour for.
Jean-Philippe Patisserie in Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.jpchocolates.com; 702/693-8788), makes me swoon, not just because it has the world’s largest chocolate fountain (20 feet high! Though only 11 feet are on view, and they won’t let us drink from it. Darn!), but perhaps, more to the point, it’s the home of World Pastry champion Jean-Philippe Maury. (Yes, you can win gold medals for pastries.) From perfect gourmet chocolates, to ice cream, to diet-conscious sorbets, to the eponymous pastries, each of which are little works of art, I hit greed overload. For me, this is true Vegas decadence—if only “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” applied to calories. The patisserie also serves some solidly good sandwiches, and some adequate savory crepes. It is open Monday through Thursday from 6am to 11pm and Friday through Sunday from 6am until midnight. There’s a second location inside Aria Las Vegas, but they don’t have the chocolate fountain.
A local favorite for more than 50 years is Freed’s Bakery, 9815 S. Eastern Ave., at Silverado Ranch Blvd. (www.freedsbakery.com; 702/456-7762), open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday from 8am to 8pm, and Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Visiting here is like walking into Grandma’s kitchen, provided you had an old-fashioned granny who felt pastries should be gooey, chocolaty, and buttery. Their signature wedding cakes will make you want to rush down the aisle, but you’ll want to bring a basket for the fresh bread, napoleons, strawberry cheesecake, cream puffs, sweet rolls, danishes, and doughnuts, many of which are made with surprisingly fresh ingredients. Some may find the goodies too heavy and rich, but for those of us with a powerful sweet tooth, this place hits the spot. There is no dining area so everything is to go; do try to at least make it to your car before you start digging in.
Just down the street is the delightful The Cupcakery , 9680 S. Eastern Ave. (www.thecupcakery.com; 702/207-2253). The delectable goodies here aren’t large, but they pack a wallop of moist cake and creamy frosting. Clever combinations include Boston cream pie (filled with custardy cream), but even the basic chocolate-on-chocolate is a buttercream pleasure. There are even sugar-free cupcakes for those with such dietary needs. The Cupcakery is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 8pm, Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Hot Vegas days call for cool desserts, and frozen custard (softer than regular ice cream, but harder than soft serve) is a fine way to go. Head for Luv-It Frozen Custard, 505 E. Oakey (www.luvitfrozencustard.com; 702/384-6452), open Sunday through Thursday from 1 to 10pm and Friday and Saturday from 1 to 11pm. Because custard has less fat and sugar than premium ice cream, you can even fool yourself into thinking this is somewhat healthful (ha!). Made every few hours using fresh cream and eggs, the custard is available in basic flavors for cup or cone. More exotic flavors (maple walnut, apple spice, and others) come in tubs.
SOUTH & EAST OF THE STRIP
Todd’s Unique Dining CONTINENTAL Chef Todd was at the helm of the Sterling Brunch at Bally’s for many years before he opened his own spot in Green Valley, wanting to serve the community he’d lived in for so many years, rather than just the tourists. Somehow, visitors got wind of his place too, so they’ve followed him here. The menu changes daily, which keeps the locals very happy. His signature goat cheese wontons are a staple, served with a drizzle of raspberry basil sauce. Boneless short ribs are another favorite, cooked long and slow until they’re falling apart, accompanied by jalapeno mashed potatoes. Most of the main entrees follow this template: protein, starch, and vegetable, and that’s the way his guests like it. A full meal at a great price, prepared by a guy they know in the kitchen. If you’ve got a definite date when you’re coming to town, sign up for the restaurant’s mailing list on the website and you’ll be updated with events and special offers.
4350 E. Sunset Rd., Henderson (just east of Green Valley Pkwy.). www.toddsunique.com. 702/259-8633. Main courses $25–$35. Mon–Sat 4:30pm–close.
Memphis Championship Barbecue BARBECUE Twice a year, two 18-wheelers loaded up with apple wood from Murphysboro, Illinois, head to Vegas to feed the pits here. The wood provides the low and slow heat, and the scented smoke that gives the meat here its distinctive pink hue and full-bodied flavor. All is done to the specifications of co-owner Mike Mills—one of the most-celebrated BBQ chefs ever, and the only man to have won the “Super Bowl of BBQ,” the International Memphis in May BBQ cook-off, four times. The barbecue you’ll taste here is made from the same recipes that won those awards, using the vinegar-based sauce his maternal grandmother created—the brisket and pork shoulders cooking for 18 hours on average, and the baby backs for five to six. It is, no exaggeration, gut-bustingly delicious. And the meal you’ll have here doesn’t start and end with the meats or barbecue chicken; the sides and appetizers are fabulous as well, from the deep-fried sour pickles, to red beans and rice as good as you’d get in New Orleans, and candy-like creamed corn. Note that there is another location near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The location listed below is closer to the Strip.
2250 E. Warm Springs Rd. (near I-215). www.memphis-bbq.com. 702/260-6909. Main courses $8–$23, special barbecue dinner (serves 4) $70. Daily 11am–10pm.
NORTH & WEST OF THE STRIP
M&M Soul Food SOUL FOOD Despite all the famous chefs who are trying to recreate their versions of comfort food, finding true soul food in Las Vegas isn’t easy. Especially when you have to trek off the Strip to get it. Before, you’d have to head to a potentially sketchy neighborhood, but M&M recently added a second location just behind the Stratosphere. Admittedly, this area is only marginally nicer than its original, but at least it’s closer. M&M looks like a greasy spoon diner from the outside, but inside there’s a menu of no-nonsense, stick-to-your-ribs fare that begins with an order of mini-cornbread pancakes delivered to every table. The smothered chicken will make you rethink your cholesterol levels, but with gravy like that you can’t say no. Finding oxtails not in a soup in Las Vegas is hard, here they’re also covered with luscious gravy instead of broth. Collard greens, fried okra, and mac and cheese are mandatory as sides if you want the full experience. Dishes like liver and onions and chitterlings are other faves, as well-prepared as they are south of the Mason-Dixon line.
3923 W. Charleston. www.mmsoulfoodcafe.com. 702/453-7685. 2211 Las Vegas Blvd. S. 702/478-5767. Main courses $9–$19. Daily Sun–Thurs 8am–8pm; Fri–Sat 8am–10pm
Raku Grill JAPANESE If you’re one of those travelers who insist on knowing where chefs go to eat in their own towns, look no further than Raku. This tiny restaurant in an unassuming strip mall in Chinatown has earned a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas under the care of chef Mitsuo Endo. He was a semi-finalist in both 2014 and 2015 for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southwest” award, and has also earned plaudits from GQ, the New York Times, and a number of other outlets. Because it’s so small and popular, reservations (which you can only make by calling) are mandatory, although if you’re lucky you can catch a seat at the bar in front of the kitchen. While there are some raw options, this isn’t a sushi joint, but rather a robata grill, where most items are cooked over clean-burning binchotan charcoal on skewers. There are conventional bites, like Kobe beef filet and duck glazed with balsamic soy sauce, but more adventurous eaters will love the Kurobuta pork cheek, beef tendon, and foie gras with a soy glaze. One of our favorites is the bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, a cluster of crunchy fungi held together by a thin, nicely rendered piece of salty pork belly. A favorite splurge is the cold foie gras custard soup with udon noodles, a slippery, savory dish that is meant to be slurped with abandon. Raku also make its own tofu, best enjoyed cold and dressed at the table with soy sauce also brewed by the restaurant. Individually, the skewers—which come one or two to an order—are inexpensive, but order enough of them and it can add up. There are exceptional desserts, like a green tea crème brûlée and the weird, but tasty, custard-like bubbling brown sugar, but for chef Endo’s take on the end to the meal, head across the way to Raku Sweets, which offers a full tasting menu solely of confections.
Want to run into those chefs we were talking about? Make sure you go late night, long after the Strip kitchens have been cleaned and closed, and you’ll find a gaggle of them here.
5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd., no. 2 (at Decatur). www.raku-grill.com. 702/367-3511. Reservations required. Robata grill items $3–$16. Mon–Sat 6pm–3am.
Like so much else that was Vegas tradition, buffets have evolved. Gone, mostly, are the days of trays and cafeteria-style lines serving heaping mounds of warmed-over blandness at bargain-basement prices. The modern buffet uses come-and-go serving areas, live-action cooking stations, and multiple ethnic and regional cuisines. A general rise in quality puts many on par with traditional restaurants.
Of course, as the quality has gone up, so too have the prices, which now make them less of a bargain. But consider it this way: You would pay much more per person at one of the fancier restaurants in town, where you would order just one, potentially disappointing, item. At a buffet there’s more variety and more chance to find something you love. More variety per person means less likelihood for disappointment, so if you hate what you picked you can simply dump your plate and start all over. They are, generally speaking, not nearly as atmospheric as a proper restaurant, but how else can you combine good barbecue with excellent Chinese and a cupcake or 10?
Buffets are extremely popular, and reservations are not taken, so be prepared for a long line at peak times. Eating at offbeat hours (lunch at 2pm, for example) will mean a shorter wait to get in, as will some hotel/casino players’ club cards, which can get you line cuts.
Note: At press time, several hotels were offering all-you-can-eat all-day-long packages where you could pay one flat fee and come back to the buffets as many times as you like in a given day. Caesars Entertainment (Harrah’s, Flamingo, Rio, and so on) is even offering a full-day pass to most of their buffets for as low as $50 so you can mix and match. Details and pricing on these change often, so visit the hotel’s website or call ahead to see if they are offering any special deals when you’re in town.
The Buffet at Aria BUFFET Like everything else in Aria, its buffet is very pretty. Many stations are spread throughout the orange-tinted room, accented with brick and chrome. Unusually for Vegas, you can have your buffet food in the sunshine: floor-to-ceiling windows let loads of natural light in. High-quality ingredients and international flavors abound here, including naan and roasted meats straight from a tandoor oven, fresh sushi from a sushi chef, and carving stations serving up nice slabs of tri-tip. The American game is strong as well, with a really tasty meatloaf that’s almost like mom’s. Desserts are fantastic here, mixing such usual items as gelato and cookies with a few new ones, like cream puffs and macarons.
At Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.arialasvegas.com. 702/590-7111. Breakfast $21, lunch $25, dinner $36–$41, Sat–Sun brunch $32 (not including cocktails). Daily 7am–10pm.
The Buffet at Excalibur BUFFET We get it: All buffets should keep up with the Joneses, but is there a way to do this without making everything look and sound alike? Sigh. Millions have been spent to rid the Buffet at Excalibur of its former King Arthur-and-his-round-table theme, making way for a bright, open, cheery space with sleek lines, and (sigh again) small plates, global cuisine. Despite my personal aversion to the trend of small-plates dining, the upgrade to the food here is monumental, considering it’s still one of the cheapest buffets on the Strip. Best new dishes include interesting bites like vanilla bean adobo tacos, or stuffed tortellini pasta with Tasso ham, and lobster polenta with truffle oil and shiitake mushrooms. Desserts are fun as well, with ice cream bars hand-dipped to order. The beverages are self service, and there’s even a self-pay station in the front, in the event you’d like to have an entire meal with no contact with another human being. Want to save a few bucks? Opt for the all day, all-you-can-eat package where you can also visit MORE, The Buffet at Luxor for one low price.
In Excalibur, 3850 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.excalibur.com. 702/597-7777. Breakfast $17, lunch $18, dinner $23–$26, brunch $21. Daily 7am–10pm.
Mandalay Bay’s Bayside Buffet BUFFET The Asian bites are why I come here. Steamed barbecue pork buns are soft, sweet, and savory; shell-on salt and pepper shrimp are crunchy and eaten whole; and for whatever reason, I can’t stop eating the pot stickers. I also like the off-the-beaten path Mexican selections, like the shredded pork carnitas and Laredo beans with rice. Everything else is about average, but the setting is unusually pleasant with a view of the pool (great people watching) and lots of natural light (there’s nothing more uncomfortable than dozens of people binge eating in a stuffy space).
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.mandalaybay.com. 702/632-7402. Breakfast $18, lunch $22, dinner $33, Sun brunch $26. Reduced prices for children 5–12; free for children 4 and under. Daily 7am–2:30pm, 4:30–9:45pm.
MORE, The Buffet at Luxor BUFFET The mummies that used to rule this all-you-can-eat at Luxor have fallen victim to rebranding. Which is a shame, because now this buffet is really boring to look at. Fortunately, the food quality has remained as consistent as it was during pharaoh’s reign. There’s the 30-foot salad bar and international offerings, like Mexican and Chinese, that aren’t authentic, but still are tasty. This is all to say that it’s not mind-blowing, but your kids will eat it. As noted above, this buffet can be combined with the offer at Excalibur, saving diners a few bucks.
In Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.luxor.com. 702/262-4000. Breakfast $17, lunch $18, dinner $23; free for children 4 and under. Daily 7am–10pm.
Bellagio Buffet BUFFET This is one of the most expensive buffets in town, but it was also the first to elevate the buffet experience when it opened in 1989, focusing on high-quality dishes and ingredients. The raw bar is a great place to start, with oysters, cocktail shrimp, crab legs, and smoked salmon, and while normally we eschew pizzas at buffets (we can get that at home!), their wood-fired oven works magic. Champagne brunch is one of the most popular meals here, but I prefer the Friday and Saturday dinner service, which includes caviar with all the proper accoutrement. High rollers may want to ante up for the so-called Chef’s Table, where you and at least eight of your friends bypass the entire line, and have a seat at a dedicated table near the buffet. Chefs come over, greet you, and pass hors d’oeuvres, before wheeling over carts to present meats like prime rib and chops, as well as desserts. You are, of course, also welcome to eat from the buffet itself. At $20 to $30 higher than the regular dinner prices, you’re paying for the privilege, but we think it’s almost worth the awkward “who is that?” stares that come from the regular guests.
In Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bellagio.com. 877/234-6358. Breakfast $20, lunch $24, dinner $35–$40, weekend brunch $30 ($42 with champagne), chef’s table experience $60–$65. Daily 7am–10pm.
Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet BUFFET The beautiful Bacchanal Buffet is the crown jewel of the Caesars Entertainment empire. It isn’t so much an all-you-can-eat buffet as it is nine different restaurants in one massive area. The space is divided into different, and different-looking, sections (one is glass enclosed, the back dining room is based around reclaimed wood, and a gleaming all-metal space finishes the trio.) More than 500 items are offered on any given day between the cold and raw bar, carving, Mexican, Asian, charcuterie, salad, and pizza stations. In addition are off-menu specials based on the chef’s whimsy. Each item we’ve eaten here, whether it was the little basket of fried chicken and waffles, delicate dim sum, red velvet pancakes, or the big hunks of Polish sausage cut just for us, has been prepared extremely well, like it was made just for us. The desserts deserve an entry on their own, but they are some of our favorites in town, including Japanese mochi, macarons, and unusual gelatos (like brown butter gelato).
In Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesarspalace.com. 702/731-7928. Breakfast $30, lunch $38, dinner $54, weekend brunch $49 (includes champagne). Mon–Fri 7:30am–10pm; Sat–Sun 8am–10pm.
Mirage Cravings Buffet BUFFET Mirage is one of those hotels that believes in the concept of under-promise, over-deliver. Visitors come to Las Vegas knowing about the Mirage, but they never have any idea of how good it is inside. The buffet is as underrated. It’s a gorgeous, ultra-modern space with familiar, but top-notch fare. Delivered by eleven live action stations, it includes prime rib that’s juicy and sliced to order, sushi as good as you’d get in your favorite Japanese restaurant, and Sunday brunch with such hangover-friendly items as pho, and, classic but pretty, eggs Benedict (plus more champagne). Beverages are self-service from one of those new-fangled soda machines, so there’s something like 150 different flavors of Coca-Cola to choose from. Unlimited beer and wine for those 21-and-over is a nice touch.
In The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.mirage.com. 702/791-7111. Breakfast $17, lunch $22, dinner $31, Sat–Sun brunch $28. Reduced prices for children 5–10; free for children 4 and under. Daily 7am–9pm.
Paris Las Vegas Le Village Buffet BUFFET The French theme goes into overdrive at this buffet modeled after a countryside village, complete with faux outdoor patio seating and a painted sky on the ceiling above. The food is served at stations hailing the five regions of France, offering recognizable dishes, like charcuterie and pate, a hearty onion soup, and even an ambitious bouillabaisse. As good as you’d find in Provence? Maybe not, but it’s still flavorful and often teeming with seafood. Classics like custom-made crepes, are hugely popular, as are desserts, like macarons and crème brûlée, because, hey, if you’re faking France, you should at least get the pastries right. There are of course, American options here, like prime rib and snow crab legs, but we like the touches of truffles on the mac and cheese to remind us of why we’re really here. Even after all these years, this is still one of the most popular buffets in town, so on weekends long lines are de rigeur.
In Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.parislasvegas.com. 702/946-7000. Mon–Fri breakfast $22–$24, lunch $25, dinner $31–$34; Sat–Sun brunch $31. Reduced prices for children 4–10 and for Total Rewards Players Club members; free for children 3 and under. Daily 7am–10pm.
Wicked Spoon Buffet BUFFET When Cosmopolitan opened this buffet, they set into motion a revolution that many other buffets would follow. Modeled after food halls you’d find in Asia, Wicked Spoon began the trend of offering guests individual portions of dishes like eggs Benedict and short rib pasta in ramekins and small pots rather than just placed in a steam tray on the line. It allows for better turnover of the dishes, ensuring that whatever is out there is as fresh as possible. Gathering all these individual dishes on one plate can be challenging, but it also makes you very aware of just how much food you’re eating, so they cut down on waste as well. Among the dishes are foodie-oriented finds like roasted bone marrow at dinner, and mac and cheese studded with ham hocks and truffled potato gratin. The selection of desserts has been lauded as some of the best in the city, all in mini sizes so you can get a little bite of everything without going into a coma after. While all the other restaurants in the resort are in the East tower, this (along with Rose.Rabbit.Lie) is tucked into the West tower on the second floor.
In The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com. 877/551-7772. Weekday brunch $26, weekend brunch $34; dinner $38–$41. Brunch Mon–Fri 8am–2pm, Sat–Sun 8am–3pm; dinner Sun–Thurs 5–9pm, Fri–Sat 5–10pm.
The Buffet at TI BUFFET The buffet at TI is old-school and not in a good way. Don’t get us wrong, the room is attractive, a contemporary space done in dark woods with exposed brick touches on the lines. But the menu sorely needs updating. What they do have, like made-to-order sushi and salads, Vietnamese pho (that you can customize to your own tastes), and a nice selection of meats from the carving station, is done properly. Fresh made doughnuts are a huge hit as well. So maybe in our quest for both novelty and quantity, we were only given the latter, and for some, that’s all that counts.
In Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.treasureisland.com. 702/894-7111. Breakfast $19; lunch $23; dinner Mon–Thurs $29, Fri–Sun $31; Sat–Sun champagne brunch $26. Reduced prices for children 4–10; free for children 3 and under. Daily 7am–10pm.
Flavors at Harrah’s BUFFET The meat section is the most laudable part of this buffet. In addition to an excellent carving station that includes gorgeous specimens of hams, turkey breasts, and prime ribs waiting to be sliced, Flavors also sometimes feature Brazilian barbecue known as churrasco, not a typical buffet offering. Since the other stations are average, fill up on meat and head to dessert. The selection of mini-cupcakes and cookies allows guests to sample many at once; kids and grown-ups alike love walking out of Flavors with cotton candy to-go.
In Harrah’s, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.harrahslv.com. 702/369-5000. Breakfast and lunch $23, dinner $28, brunch Sat–Sun $27. Reduced prices for children 4–10; free for children 3 and under. Daily 7am–10pm.
Spice Market Buffet BUFFET Out of all the buffets in the city, this is one of our underrated favorites. Planet Hollywood’s former life as the Aladdin left the Middle Eastern cuisine of this buffet as its legacy. With well-prepared and flavorful options like a huge mezze spread of hummus, baba ghanoush, and rice-stuffed grape leaves, it’s a big hit with our vegetarian friends (who are happy to find more than just salad and pizza to eat). Never fear, carnivores, there’s still stuff for you, like lamb skewers and chicken curry, plus a carving station with prime rib, and an impressive seafood selection with fish and chips and sushi.
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.planethollywoodresort.com. 702/785-5555. Breakfast $25, lunch $27, dinner $33–$40, Sat–Sun brunch $32. Daily 7am–11pm.
Wynn Las Vegas Buffet BUFFET Bottom line: It’s darn nice to stuff your faces in such lovely surroundings. Arched ceilings allow natural light to stream into the atrium, where pots and pots of flowers and plants give vibrant life to the otherwise neutrally colored decor. And for a mass-eating experience, much attention is paid to individual guest’s needs. There are 15 live action stations here, some of which allow guests to interact with chefs, like at the carving station, where they slice off your specific choice of prime rib or sausage. Some are self service, but still swanky, like the pre-portioned salad station, where the greens are served in glasses that evoke the mason jar salad-craze that was going around a couple of years ago. Many of the bites feature premium ingredients like Wagyu beef and veal short ribs (does that justify the elevated prices? You’ll have to decide). Desserts are a high point here, whether you choose made-to-order crepes, bon bons, excellent gelato . . . or all of the above.
In Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.wynnlasvegas.com. 702/248-3463. Breakfast $21, lunch $26, dinner $39–$40, Sat–Sun brunch $33 (not including cocktails). Daily 8am–10pm.
Main Street Station Garden Court Buffet BUFFET The Garden Court Buffet is Downtown’s prettiest and most extensive buffet—and a darn good deal at half what the Strip casinos are charging for meals. Reminiscent of a Victorian train station, its ceilings are grandly arched, covered with white tile and small pinpoint lights, which glow daintily at dinnertime. At lunch, sunshine pours through the lovely stained glass windows, one of the few in-casino eateries that allows sunlight to enter (blame Vegas’ large vampire clientele, I guess). It may also be the most spacious buffet in town, with tables that are shouting distance apart and comfortable chairs. The buffet itself is a massive, highly staffed affair with nine live-action stations, each attended by a friendly chef popping pizzas into a brick oven, wokking up Chinese food, or running the Southern soul food station (which sometimes has chicken fried steak with gravy). As a nod to the frequent Hawaiian visitors that come through, there are a lot of island options, like sweet Portuguese sausage for breakfast, sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and shredded kalua pork and cabbage.
At Main Street Station, 200 N. Main St. www.mainstreetcasino.com. 702/387-1896. Breakfast $8; lunch $9; dinner $12–$23, Sat–Sun champagne brunch $12. Free for children 3 and under. Daily 7–10:30am breakfast; 11am–3pm lunch; Mon–Thurs 4–9pm dinner; Fri–Sun 4–10pm dinner.
Just Off the Strip
Rio’s Carnival World & Seafood Buffet BUFFET Locals love this all-you-can-eat, as it was one of the first to offer a truly global dining experience (that went beyond the standard Italian, Chinese and American at other buffets), plus they loved the Village Seafood Buffet, which offered the best catches from the Pacific Rim, Mediterranean and Baja. Only recently did they consolidate the two into one mega buffet. The food court setting allows diners to navigate between the various cuisines—the meat-laden Brazilian grill, and the Japanese teppanyaki station serve up just some of the more than 300 other dishes on offer. On top of those are more than 70 desserts at the finish, with almost a dozen gelato flavors, pies, and cakes, all made on-site just for this restaurant.
In Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo Rd. www.riolasvegas.com. 702/252-7777. Lunch $25, dinner $32–$50, Sat–Sun champagne brunch $32. Reduced prices for children 4–8; free for children 3 and under. Mon–Fri 11am–10pm; Sat–Sun 8am–10pm.
Online Restaurant Inspections
The Southern Nevada Health District is the organization responsible for inspecting restaurants. Each is visited at least twice a year and then graded (A, B, or C), given demerits for infractions (improper food storage and handling, and the like), and in extreme cases, shut down. You can now read the inspections online for every restaurant in town, although you may not want to if you ever feel like eating in Las Vegas again. If you think you and your stomach can handle it, visit www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org.
Gold Coast’s Ports O’ Call BUFFET There’s nothing wrong with seeking out a cheaper buffet in the name of sustenance. While you won’t have the myriad of choices as other buffets on the Strip, Ports o’ Call has a respectable seven live cooking stations, and some genuine hits among its dishes, like the full rotisserie chickens at the carving station, the steak tacos from the Mexican line, and fried oysters from the seafood station. Fridays are seafood night, but I think the prime rib is a better choice. Gold Coast’s buffet is clean, the food is decent, and the lines won’t be insane, and sometimes that’s all you need.
In Gold Coast, 4000 W. Flamingo Rd. www.goldcoastcasino.com. 702/367-7111. Breakfast $8, lunch $10, dinner $16–$21, Sun brunch $18. Reduced prices for children 4–9; free for children 3 and under. Mon–Sat 7–10am, 11am–3pm, 4–9pm; Sun 8am–3pm, 4–9pm.